Polish zoos rescue nine tigers stranded on Belarus border

Warsaw (AFP) –


Nine stranded tigers found "emaciated, dehydrated, with sunken eyes" have been rescued by two Polish zoos after a gruelling journey through Europe during which a tenth feline died, officials said.

Polish authorities have charged a Russian man with alleged animal abuse after a truck that set off from Italy on October 22 carrying the tigers got stuck for days on the border with Belarus.

Vakhitov F., who is believed to have organised the trip and was travelling with the tigers and two drivers, was detained and "the prosecutor has decided to charge him with animal abuse," said Agnieszka Kepka, spokeswoman for the regional prosecutor's office.

"The tigers are alive," said the zoo in the western city of Poznan, which welcomed seven tigers overnight Wednesday to Thursday while a facility in the northern town of Czluchow took in the other two.

"The tigers were emaciated, dehydrated, with sunken eyes, excrement stuck to their fur, urine burns, in a total state of stress, without the will or desire to live... Maltreated, suffering and humiliated," the Poznan zoo said on its Facebook page.

The facility earlier said its employees discovered "a real nightmare" at the border post in the eastern village of Koroszczyn where the tigers were stranded for four days, unable to leave their cages.

Belarussian customs officials said the veterinary documents presented by the drivers were insufficient, and one of them had an expired visa.

Local media reported that the tigers were meant to be a gift from a breeding facility to a zoo in Russia's Dagestan Republic.

The two Italian drivers will be questioned as witnesses in the case.

Once they recover, the animals will be sent to a special facility in Spain.

According to animal rights organisations, only between 3,200 and 3,900 tigers live in the wild around the world.

Another 7,000 are held in captivity, mainly in Asia.