Staff at Trikala Zoo challenge decision to relocate aged tiger

“They were like my children. First we lost Athina and now Foivos is leaving and I don’t understand why,” said Giorgos Petalas, superintendent at Trikala Zoo in central Greece. It was with sadness that Petalas and his colleagues at the zoo observed the recent operation to relocate a tiger they had taken care of for over 12 years and they asked themselves whether 15-year-old Foivos would survive the long journey to the Lions, Tigers & Bears Sanctuary in San Diego, California.

British animal activist David Barnes, a former RSPCA inspector appointed by the Trikala Municipality as a management consultant at the zoo a few years ago, had launched an international campaign arguing that the animal was being poorly looked after at the Trikala facility. A campaign launched by Barnes to raise money for the tiger’s transfer to the US sanctuary proved highly successful, raising the sum of 7,770 pounds out of the 11,500-pound budget required for the transfer.

In the meantime, wildlife experts contacted by Kathimerini expressed doubts as to whether the journey would prove beneficial for the tiger. To begin with, Foivos was not ill. Both he and his companion Athina, Trikala Zoo’s second tiger which died a few months ago, were born with lower limb dysplasia. Both animals had been the product of incest, a regular practice at the circus where they were born a few months apart. Greek authorities had seized the animals from the circus in 2002 and taken them to Trikala. Back then animal specialists had informed the zoo’s management that due to their deformity the animals would not live long, indicating that they would not live beyond 2008. Certain specialists had even suggested euthanasia as a solution in order for the animals not to suffer.

In the end, in the care of the zoo’s staff, Athina lived until the age of 15 (a tiger’s average age in the wild is 20) and Foivos is still alive. Athina died in March during an operation to take care of a paw wound, unable to survive the anaesthesia. For Foivos, the shock of parting with his longtime partner was similar to that of being removed from his living quarters of so many years. When a group of specialists attempted to place the animal in a cage, it reacted forcefully and was eventually sedated.

Talking to the BBC, Barnes argued that the Greek zoo was not in a position to take care of the 260-kilo tiger, an animal which consumes about 35 chickens a week. According to the animal activist, the zoo was no longer able to pay the resident vet it used to employ full-time in the past.

“That is not true,” Petalas told Kathimerini. “The zoo employs a vet and the animals are properly fed with the best-quality foods. I would be the first person to leave if there was a problem with their nutrition.”

When the animals arrived in Trikala, the zoo erected new, 450,000-euro facilities featuring swimming areas as well as two separate rooms for them. “They are considered among the best facilities in Europe. Foivos was happy here,” noted Petalas.

While Barnes thanked those who had donated to his campaign for Foivos’s transfer to his new California home, public support, he said, could change the living conditions of animals which were being badly treated around the world.  

“Tranferring the animal to the other side of the world for no particular reason is another form of abuse,” a vet who wished to remain unnamed told Kathimerini.