Two tigers, both victims of inappropriate private keeping, have arrived at the FOUR PAWS project LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa on 23rd October 2019. Tigers Bela and Sharuk were born in 2014 in the garden of a private keeper in Germany. Their third sibling, called Imara, unfortunately did not survive. Although private keeping of tigers is still allowed in some parts of Germany, the minimum prescribed keeping standards were not met. Therefore, the veterinary authorities forced the owner to give up the siblings, but a suitable solution could not be found. FOUR PAWS offered support and brought Bela and Sharuk to TIERART Big Cat Centre in 2015.
Finally, Bela and Sharuk were living in a species appropriate home, where the young tigers were taken care of by a team of experts and provided with the nutrition they needed. “We took intensive care of the two siblings for more than four years. They have always been fixated on each other and spend a lot of time together cuddling on their platform or playing,” says Florian Eiserlo, Site Manager at TIERART. “But it became clear to us that these tigers, especially shy Bela, need more space and less interference from humans to make further progress. We are convinced that they will find this in their new home.”
After a check by the state vet in Johannesburg, the tigers were cleared to travel to LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary. “Although it has been a very long journey, both tigers are doing well considering the conditions and have already had some species appropriate food. Bela is still a bit insecure about her environment and will need more time to adapt. Sharuk on the other hand is confident and has already taken a splash in his pool,” says Hildegard Pirker, Head of the Animal Welfare Department at LIONSROCK.
“In the coming days, Bela and Sharuk will be kept in the feeding area of their enclosure to become accustomed with their new surroundings and caretakers. This is a very important part of their adaption phase. We will monitor their behaviour and when the time is right, release them into the bigger part of their enclosure to roam, relax, hide or swim in their big pool,” says Pirker.
A lifelong home for big cats
“A tiger in South Africa may sound strange, but when you know the story of the individual, sometimes it makes perfect sense. Bela and Sharuk were born in a garden in Germany, a place where tigers clearly do not belong either. These animals were captive born, damaged by their past, are very sensitive to stress and can never go back to the wild. Instead, they need lifelong care. At LIONSROCK we provide them with a home that gives them the peace, safety and comfort in an environment that helps them feel more at ease. As an organisation we are committed to giving these big cats the highest quality care and the dignified lives they deserve to live. In the end it’s about their right to life and having a suitable home,” says Fiona Miles, director of FOUR PAWS in South Africa.
The ruthless tiger trade
Sadly, the story of Bela and Sharuk is one of many examples of how the trade in tigers is out of control. The breeding and trading of tigers is allowed throughout the EU and in many other countries. Lack of documentation makes it impossible to know how many of these tigers live in captivity, where they are traded or where they die. For years, FOUR PAWS has been rescuing big cats from poor keeping conditions worldwide and offering a permanent solution in its sanctuaries.
Tigers are endangered wildlife that need protection. The European Union must ensure that there is no market for tigers and their body parts in Europe and ban the commercial trade. FOUR PAWS has launched a petition asking the European Commission to stop this cruel business.