Two big cats rescued from Germany have arrived in South Africa to start a new life.
Tigers, Bela and Sharuk, were rescued from an inappropriate private facility and have been transferred to Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary in Bethlehem, Free State.
Bela and Sharuk were born in 2014, while a third sibling, Imara, did not survive.
Before their transfer to SA, Four Paws took the tigers to their Tierart centre in the Rhineland-Palatinate state in western Germany.
"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," said Florian Eiserlo, site manager at Tierart.
'Less interference from humans'
But she said that the tigers needed more space than the 14ha property could provide.
The decision was made to move them to the 1 250ha Lionsrock site.
"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," said Eiserlo.
The tigers were checked by the state vet in Johannesburg and given the all-clear to travel to the Lionsrock 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," said Hildegard Pirker, head of the animal welfare department at Lionsrock.
"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."
Tigers (Panthera tigris) are listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites). This means that they are threatened with extinction, and the trade in these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.
Wildlife group Traffic argues that Cites has not limited the trade in tigers.
"From the information available, it appears that illegal trade in tiger parts and derivatives is occurring throughout the range and consumer states surveyed, with a few exceptions.
"Financial penalties in many range states are low compared to the potential financial gain. In many states where steep penalties exist, they are not used due to legislation that is difficult to enforce because of limitations in forensic techniques, lack of resources or political will, or backlogged legal systems which require years to bring cases to court," reads Traffic's Tiger Progress? The Response to CITES report.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) argues for a more robust protection mechanism to protect tigers.
"Cites needs to agree a rigorous, formal process to examine countries' performance in urgently implementing the needed measures as agreed by Cites. This process should include a particular focus on the role of tiger farms in trade," says the WWF.
While other tigers remain at risk, captive-born Bela and Sharuk will live out their days in the sanctuary because they cannot fend for themselves.
Four Paws said that the tiger trade was out of control.
"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."Follow @Duncan025