Wild Animal Orphanage tiger rescue: On the road!

One of the three tigers being moved is checked.

Bali, Titan and Java are now making their way to their new home at the Carolina Tiger Rescue sanctuary in Pittsboro, North Carolina. Their life-changing voyage started early yesterday morning in San Antonio when IFAW staff met with colleagues from the Wild Animal Orphanage (WAO) and the Texas Animal Resource Team (TXSART) near the big cat enclosures at 7:00 am.

The sun was barely over the horizon and through the early morning fog we caught the first glimpse of these magnificent cats. At first, they were just lying down, they looked relaxed but their eyes would not leave us. While they were comforted by the familiar voices of their life-long keepers Michelle and Mary Reininger, there were many of us there for the first time, strangers. The tigers stood up and started pacing the enclosure fence, 'something is up'.

What would possess anyone to get too close to the tiger cage and risk getting clawed or bitten is beyond me, a quick look at their size and canines is enough to keep me at a safe distance, nevertheless, we had the necessary cautionary message from the veterinarian before proceeding and had all the media folks sign liability waivers before attending the event!

We all took our positions and we carefully aligned and strapped the transport cages to the enclosure doors.

Michelle and Mary have known these tigers for more than a decade and have built such a tight bond that the best way to describe their relationship is to say they are like children to them. They know them inside out and we would soon see why.

First off for caging was Java. "She is such a sweet girl" said Michelle. She gets along really well with most tigers and humans which is surprising knowing that she spent the first years of her live in private ownership with no interaction with other tigers. Following the call of her caretakers, Java walked into the transport cage voluntarily just a minute or two after they opened the door for her. For a second there you forget she is a tiger and all you see with Java is a docile and giant cat, purring along and getting close to the fence looking for affection.

Titan was next and he too walked straight in. "Titan is a bit of a show-off, always playful, always cool and he's Bali's best friend" said Mary. Once again, he did just what they had predicted, everything was running smoothly and we were ahead of schedule, moving tigers is easy!

Not so fast... we soon found out that Titan's tiger buddy was not so comfortable with the idea of walking into a cage. Bali's reluctance was again no real surprise, we had been warned that is was very unlikely that he would follow Titan and Java's example. "Bali is a gentle tiger but he gets very nervous around people he doesn't know" warned Michelle. We all cleared away from the enclosure area to give him a chance to settle down but all he did was poke his head into the cage a couple of times. It was plain to see that he knew something was just not right and his suspicious nature got the best of him.

We waited for about 20 minutes and then we realized there was no other choice but to sedate and manually place him into the cage. So a tranquilizing dart hit him on the side and 15 minutes later, Bali was sound asleep, snoring heavily and with his tongue sticking out! Only then did we feel somewhat comfortable to open the door and step in with him. The vet and support staff lifted his heavy body and placed him on a stretcher. It took 5 people to get him into the transport cage but soon enough he joined Java and Titan on a forklift drive to the transport trailer stationed about a quarter of a mile down the dirt road.

All of the tigers were in and ready to start their long trip by midday. And so after we said our farewells, the IFAW-donated TXSART trailer set-off on its 26-hour journey to North Carolina.

As I'm writing this, we got news that the trailer had crossed the state of Louisiana and the tigers are doing well. So comfortable in fact that they spend most of the time dozing off to the constant rocking motion of the trailer and the sound of the engine running.

The IFAW team is now positioned in North Carolina, ready to welcome the tigers to their new home. Please stay tuned to further updates on this move and check out our live webcast scheduled for Friday night (8:00 Eastern Time) on www.ifaw.org/live to see the tigers arriving!

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Pauline Verheij, Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Country Representative, Germany
Country Representative, Germany
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy