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In 2017, near Aleppo, Syria, 13 animals were left alive of the hundreds who had once lived in the Magic World zoo. With war raging all through the city, the rest had succumbed to starvation and lack of care.
Among the survivors were two tigers, Sultan and Sayeeda. Rescuing and caring for neglected captive big cats is the mission of Four Paws International, which operates a shelter in an old farmhouse in a small town in the Netherlands. On a mission to rescue a lion and a bear from Mosul, Iraq, staffers learned about the plight of the tigers and realized they had to intervene.
“When our team found Sultan and Sayeeda, they were in very bad condition,” says Barbara van Genne, head of Four Paws’ big-cat operations an international animal-welfare organization that was established in Austria in 1988. “We had to put them under anesthesia to microchip them and do the necessary medical checks. Sultan went into cardiac arrest, and our team acted quickly and was able to save his life, but we were very worried about them.”
Sayeeda and Sultan were very skinny and dehydrated, with very poor fur. Veterinary checks revealed damage to their kidneys, most likely due to the lack of good food and water; Sultan showed signs of extreme stress. More than a year later, Sultan and Sayeeda are living a life far from the trauma of war at the Big Cat Centre, where after months of intensive care they have just been socialized. “The tigers were kept separately when we rescued them. Since their arrival at FELIDA, we worked hard to make sure that their health and welfare increased. Last Tuesday was a special day, as for the first time we opened the gate that separates them to give them the chance to enjoy a life together. This is a huge step in their lives and will help them to deal better with the stress and trauma of war. It is a promising development and hopefully one day soon we can bring them to our sanctuary in South Africa, Lionsrock,” says van Genne.
There are five tigers at the center altogether, and three lions. Two cubs are lying in a customized bed enjoying the sunshine while resting their heads on each other. Terez and Masoud were born in Bulgaria in an illegal breeding station owned by the municipality. They were discovered by a volunteer in Bulgaria only one or two days after they were born and were handraised.
Getting them to the Big Cat Centre required an online campaign, which led to public demonstrations in Bulgaria and, ultimately, the intervention of the prime minister. They arrived in the Netherlands weighing only about 45 pounds each; now, six months later, they are up to about 150 pounds. But the fight continues; there are still many other animals kept in captivity in similar places, not only in Bulgaria but throughout the world.