Every day at Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport in Lebanon, countless pieces of luggage, commercial goods, and cargo pass through customs. Most of it passes through without incident. But last March, an unlabeled box caught the staff’s interest.
The box had holes on the sides and was destined for war-worn Syria. But apart from an airline ticket number, the box was completely unmarked.
Then for seven days, it just sat at the airport— until a judge gave customs agents permission to open it.
And when agents and animal advocates saw what was inside, they couldn’t believe their eyes.
The box was only 16 inches (42 cm) tall and contained three young Siberian tigers.
Siberian tigers, which are listed by the IUCN as an endangered species, are highly sought after on the black market and today there are only 500 left in the wild.
The three tiger cubs were extremely dehydrated and in very poor condition. They were forced to lie in their own feces, which also explained the strong smell that wafted from the box.
The tigers had been stuck in a tiny hell for at least a week. There was no information about them and they had not been vaccinated.
The Washington Convention bans transporting endangered animals and plants across borders without special permission. Only one of the tigers had a microchip and could be traced.
Due to the urine-stained box, the paws of the three tigers were bloody, sore and infected. The cubs couldn’t even stand up in the little box and they also suffered from severe diarrhea and digestive problems.
It soon became apparent that the animals had been sold from a zoo in Ukraine and would be delivered to a private citizen in Damascus, Syria.
Because of the Syrian Civil War and the missing documents, the box and the tigers were stuck in Beirut.
According to reports, their mother had at least 12 cubs since 2012. Nine of them were reportedly sold to private or anonymous buyers.
When the tigers were released, they were sent to a veterinarian who specializes in exotic animals. Under the vet’s supervision, the tigers cubs’ condition improved considerably. They were also given names: May, Tania and Antoun.
The Ukrainian zoo that sent the tigers soon contacted the authorities in Lebanon and asked for the tiger cubs back.
“Big cats can be worth tens of thousands of dollars on the black market. The owner is fighting to get them back, and we are fighting for the tigers and rule of law,” Lebanese animal advocacy organization Animals Lebanon wrote on Facebook.
A few weeks later, good news came from the government of Lebanon. The Ministry of Agriculture decided to free the tigers.
The animals were taken in by Animals Lebanon, and then May, Tania and Antoun moved to a nature reserve for tigers. Wonderful!
Animal welfare organizations like Animals Lebanon deserve our respect and support. I don’t know how many animals would meet a gruesome end were not for all the animal welfare volunteers and advocates out there.
Every day, they fight for the best of animals — and often they don’t get a credit for their good deeds.
Animal advocates are there for all of God’s creatures when society, the government and animal owners fail to do something so basic: give them love and protection.
If you see a suffering animal, don’t hesitate to contact the authorities or your local animal welfare organization. Whether they are exotic tigers, farm animals or ordinary dogs and cats — all animals deserve a good life!