For the first time in his life, "Hatch," a 10-year-old male Bengal tiger, will have the chance to move around and feel real grass beneath his paws thanks to a joint effort between the Villa Dolores Zoo in Montevideo, Uruguay and Animals Without Homes, an Uruguayan organization that works with zoos and circuses to move unwanted animals into better environments. The organization is currently in talks with the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Texas* and the National Tiger Sanctuary in Missouri to take him and an unnamed female tiger kept in an adjoining cage.
Hatch has lived at Villa Dolores in a 20’-x-16’ cage with cement walls since he was traded to the facility after spending his first three years in a circus.
The plan is to transfer the animals without compensation or cost to the city, said the organization's spokesman, Eduardo Etcheverry, who added, "I would like it if zoos did not exist, but they exist and have many animals that cannot be introduced back into nature. We try to help these animals have the best quality of life. The administration of Montevideo has recognized, and we thank them for it, that they do not possess the means to have the tigers in their charge."
Although the city of Montevideo currently spends $1,000 a month to feed the tigers, it cannot afford the $600,000 price tag of creating a more suitable habitat for them at the cramped urban zoo, which has long been a target for animal rights activists.
Once the tigers have been relocated, the Zoo and Animals Without Homes will turn their attention to trying to find new homes for its giraffe and a hippopotamus, as well as some of its smaller animals. Villa Dolores’s lone elephant died last year of arthrosis, a bone disease common to captive animals. At present, they have been unable to find anyone willing to accept the town's pair of 16-year-old jaguars.
In the meantime, the two groups are also looking to prevent the disaster that struck the Atlantida Zoo in Canelopes in which, a capybara, a llama, a black-headed parrot, a red parrot, a rabbit, three guinea pigs and a Patagonian hare were found dead (some apparently struck by cars; others drowned in ponds or died of stress) hours after they were “set free” from their cages by a group calling itself “Direct Action” in July.
*According to Juan Villalba Macias, the former South America director of Traffic, a global network combating the illegal wildlife trade, “there are now there are more pet tigers in Texas than the entire population of wild tigers surviving in Asia."
Villalba, who now runs a private wildlife reserve in rural Uruguay says he was not offered any of the animals from Villa Delores because of the “fear that the radicals would follow them there.”