Five tigers that narrowly survived a harrowing journey across Europe before being impounded at the Polish border arrived on Monday at an animal shelter in southeastern Spain.
Following several weeks of recovery at a Polish zoo, the big cats set out for their new home on Saturday, arriving on Monday afternoon at the Primadomus Wildlife Refuge in Villena, some 50 kilometres inland from the coastal city of Alicante.
“We are very happy we have the opportunity to do this, but we also regret this kind of animal transport is still happening in Europe,” said Peter de Haan, a spokesman for AAP (Animal Advocacy and Protection), the Dutch NGO that runs the refuge.
The five tigers were among a group of 10 found by Polish border authorities in late October. Crammed into the back of a truck which had been transporting them from Italy to Russia’s Dagestan Republic, they had been stuck for days at Poland’s border with Belarus.
One died at the border and the surviving nine were taken to two Polish zoos, where they were described as “emaciated, dehydrated, with sunken eyes, excrement stuck to their fur, urine burns (and) in a total state of stress”.
Speaking to AFP by phone from the Netherlands, de Haan said the tigers had been transported from Italy in conditions that were “really, really horrifying”.
“The transporters did not know what they were doing, so they could not give the care even if they wanted to,” he said.
Not well enough to travel
The four other surviving tigers stayed in Poland because their health is not good enough for them to travel, de Hann said.
One underwent surgery last week because, like the tiger that died, “his intestines were blocked because of being given the wrong food on the transport from Italy”.
The five who arrived in Spain will remain in quarantine for the first month to have their health monitored on a daily basis, he said.
The Primadomus refuge is currently home to 25 big cats, most of them rescued from travelling circuses, and 90 primates, spokeswoman Myriam Garrido told AFP.
Opened in 2009 as a sanctuary for primates, the refuge was in 2013 transformed into a rescue centre for animals suffering from abuse, which had been trafficked or were being exploited, predominantly for entertainment purposes. Animal rights organisations say there are between 3,200 and 3,900 tigers living in the wild, with another 7,000 held in captivity, mainly in Asia.