Tigers Abandoned in Train Carriage by Traveling Circus To Be Rescued

Animal welfare activists are preparing to rescue four tigers that have been stuck in an abandoned train carriage for 15 years.

A team from global animal welfare non-profit Four Paws will travel to San Luis province in western Argentina in the coming weeks to collect the tigers and transfer them to a new home.

"We are currently working in close cooperation with the Argentinian authorities, the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development and the farmer who took care of the tigers to prepare everything we need for a swift rescue of the tigers," Four Paws spokesperson Katharina Braun told Newsweek.

In 2007, a traveling circus asked a local farmer in San Luis to take care of two tigers housed in a specialized train carriage for a period of six months. The train carriage was located on the farmer's land. But the circus never returned, leaving the farmer to feed and look after the two big cats—a male and female that are now aged 18 and 15 respectively.

The male and female eventually mated, giving birth to two cubs, taking the total number of tigers living in the train carriage to four. Braun said the cubs, both of which are males, are estimated to be 10 and 12-years-old respectively.

Given that it is illegal to keep wild animals privately in Argentina, the farmer did not immediately inform the authorities that he was in possession of the big cats. Over the years, he tried to take care of them to the best of his knowledge.

But the tigers were being kept in an unsuitable environment for big cats to live in.

"Four tigers live [in a space measuring] 75-meters-squared, which is not nearly enough for a species that needs to move, run and hunt. Tigers love water, they like to bathe. And just like pet cats, big cats like to play and use their senses," Braun said. "In the train carriage they have nothing to engage with or to stimulate their senses. The farmer did his best to rinse the carriage with water but over the years the tigers lived in leftover excrement, meat and bones. Fortunately the train carriage has been clean for a while now."

"According to a local veterinarian who went to check the tigers from a distance on behalf of Four Paws, they seem to be in good physical condition, however, all the years in such a confined space still will have taken a toll on their physical well-being, and even more so on their mental well-being. They were unable to live out any natural behaviors and must have been bored out of their minds."

Argentinian authorities became aware of the tigers' situation in 2021 and began looking for solutions, knowing that they could not be re-homed locally.

When Four Paws learned about the case, the non-profit offered to support the authorities with rescuing and relocating the tigers.

Tigers in San Luis province, Argentina
Two of the tigers living in an abandoned train carriage in San Luis province, Argentina. They are set to be moved to a new home in a big cat sanctuary. © FOUR PAWS | Nicolas Cabona

The tigers are set to be relocated to LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary, near Bethlehem, South Africa, one of eleven wild animal sanctuaries established by Four Paws around the world.

The sanctuary is home to more than 100 animals, most of which are big cats rescued by Four Paws. It provides a species-appropriate, lifelong home for mistreated animals that cannot be released back into the wild.

According to Four Paws, the facility meets the highest standards for keeping big cats, featuring large areas for family groups, while the facilitation of natural behavior is encouraged.

"Being Argentinian myself I know that I speak for many when I say that righting the wrong that has been done to these animals is a matter close to my heart. We thank the local authorities and all partners who made this possible," Luciana D'Abramo, chief development officer at Four Paws said in a statement.

It is estimated that there are only around 4,000 tigers left in the wild worldwide as the illicit trade in big cats flourishes. Live tigers are shipped across the world to be kept as pets and abused for human entertainment in circuses, zoos and other interactions. Tigers are also often killed for their skin, fur, bones and teeth.

"By rescuing these four tigers in Argentina, we provide a better life for them individually and create awareness for all animals globally to be treated with respect, empathy and understanding," said Four Paws CEO Josef Pfabigan.

Specialized tiger train carriage
The specialized train carriage abandoned by the traveling circus in which the tigers are living. A team from global animal welfare non-profit Four Paws will travel to Argentina to collect the tigers and transfer them to a new home. © FOUR PAWS | Nicolas Cabona