tiger being released to sanctuary

The grass is greener in South Africa for released ‘train tigers’

Four tigers, three countries and around 5,000 miles traveled as FOUR PAWS first South American rescue is successfully completed.


London, 13 March 2022 Former ‘train tigers’ that spent over 15 years stuck in a train carriage in San Luis province in Argentina, arrived at their new home at LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa on 12 March. FOUR PAWS captured the moment their paws touched grass for the first time in their lives.

Global animal welfare organisation, FOUR PAWS rescued the tigers from their carriage cage after weeks of tireless efforts and close cooperation with the Argentinian and South African authorities.

Transferring the tigers from the train carriage, into transport crates and onto a truck headed for the airport was a logistical challenge that the experienced team were able to master.

The tigers were recently given Argentinian names, to honour their beginnings, and after a journey of over 70 hours, Sandro, Mafalda, Messi and Gustavo, arrived safe and well at their new forever home.

Mafalda, the matriarch, took a little time before she left her transport crate, whilst, patriarch Sandro, and their two male cubs Messi and Gustavo started to explore the new surroundings almost immediately.

“These tigers have never felt grass or earth under their paws.”


“It’s the first time they can see the sky above them, not just metal bars and a roof.”


“Now they have lots of tastes and smells to take in. It is overwhelming for them to be in a completely new environment, but animals are quick at adapting to better living conditions.”


“I am proud that we have brought all four tigers safely to South Africa. Now the mission is complete, and I am handing over their care to my colleagues at LIONSROCK.”

Dr Amir Khalil, FOUR PAWS veterinarian and rescue lead

FOUR PAWS cares for rescued big cats in a species-appropriate environment at LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary, yet many other big cats around the world face a tragic fate.

“The road to rehabilitation for these animals now begins,”


“In the coming days and weeks, LIONSROCK will closely monitor the four tigers' medical needs and determine the veterinary care they need.”


"The exploitation of big cats for commercial gain fuels an industry that could lead to the future of the species being behind bars.”

Hildegard Pirker, Manager at LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary.

“After 15 years trapped in a train carriage, this family of tigers can finally be free.

“Life was bleak before the rescue. In an unhygienic cage the length of five parking spaces, there was no access to natural ground, water or even shelter from the elements.

“Now the tigers will be free to roam, swim or just stretch out and enjoy their newfound space.

“We are so pleased to have rewritten the future for Mafalda, Sandro, Gustavo and Messi. Now they are free from bars and cages and can finally live the life a majestic tiger deserves.”

Sonul Badiani-Hamment, UK Country Director at FOUR PAWS UK 

LIONSROCK: A home for over 100 rescued big cats in South Africa

LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary, one of eleven wild animal sanctuaries established by FOUR PAWS, near Bethlehem, South Africa is home to over 100 animals, most of which are big cats rescued by FOUR PAWS from war-ravaged zoos, circuses, private ownership, and the canned hunting industry. The sanctuary provides a species-appropriate, lifelong home for the mistreated big cats who cannot be released back into the wild.

The habitat offers highest standards including large areas for family groups, facilitation of natural behaviour through enrichment and highest standards of medical care as well as highest security standards of enclosures. In LIONSROCK hunting, trading or breeding of big cats is strictly prohibited.

Moreover, interactions between wild animals and visitors are prohibited as well.

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Head of Communications UK: Hannah Baker

Hannah Baker

Head of Communications UK


020 7922 7954

07966 032 235

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