Rescued tigers burn bright in Free State

25 May 2015 - 02:17 By Shaun Smillie

Every morning Juno van Zon gets snorted at. But he doesn't take it the wrong way because a snort from a tiger is a "hello" and to Van Zon it means that everything is as it should be.For the past three weeks Van Zon, from The Netherlands, has watched his six tigers slowly gain confidence and grow into their new surroundings."At first there was no snorting, now they are doing it," Van Zon said.When they first arrived at the Lion's Rock sanctuary earlier this month, the tigers hid in their sleeping enclosures.What frightened them most was cars.The tigers are the latest big cats to come to the sanctuary, which is near Bethlehem, in the Free State.They are a mother and father - Juno and Cromwell - and their four offspring, Rasputin, Merza, Zita and Rafik.Juno and Cromwell lived in the Dartmoor Wildlife Park, in the UK, but when the park went bankrupt and closed they were rescued by the international animal welfare body Four Paws and moved to the Felida Big Cat Sanctuary in the Netherlands, where they had their four offspring.In South Africa the six tigers will be able to live out their days in the open, in a large enclosure now being built.For the moment the tigers are being kept in smaller enclosures until they become familiar with their new surroundings.Von Zon accompanied the tigers on their flight to South Africa because he knows each of them intimately . The four youngsters, he explained, are the most at ease with humans because they were hand-raised.The six have joined a menagerie of other animal refugees at Lion's Rock, which has 85 lions, 19 tigers, two hyenas, two caracals, two leopards and a three-legged cheetah.Some of the animals have a legacy of cruelty and all have a sad story. Most of the animals came from zoos; others were rescued from circuses.Nyanga, a white lion, was to have been euthanased but a public outcry saved her and she was taken to Lion's Rock."We fix other people's mistakes," said Lion's Rock general manager, Islam Saadawi.Tuesdays and Fridays at Lion's Rock are feeding days and when Von Zon pays close attention to his tigers. For the big cats these are the days on which the dreaded Toyota Land Cruiser drives up to their enclosures to drop off the meat.But last Friday was a bit different. Some of the tigers, while wary, came out of their sleeping quarters to grab pieces of meat while the Land Cruiser was still there."Ahh, Cromwell, is getting used to the car," said Von Zon.That means his job is nearly done and the cats will soon be moving into their big new enclosure and he will have to say goodbye.

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