Happy birthday Sandro!

What better way to celebrate World Animal Day, than to wish our rescued tiger many happy returns? Our Rescue & Care Officer Dr Andrea Donaldson reports.

A close-up portrait of a tiger

It’s World Animal Day, an international day of celebration for everyone passionate about animal welfare. As you know, here at Born Free we believe the well-being of every single wild animal matters. This includes Sandro, the remarkable tiger rescued from a shoddy zoo in Spain and given a forever home in a tranquil sanctuary in Tuscany, thanks to you.

Sandro was originally rescued from the deplorable Ayamonte Zoo in Spain, closed in 2019 after years of our campaigning. He was temporarily cared for by our colleagues at Natuurhulpcentrum, a wildlife rescue centre and ‘halfway house’ in Belgium, before Born Free found him a lifetime home at Animanatura Wild Sanctuary, in northern Italy in 2021.


Happy 18th Sandro!

Sandro is turning 18 years old this October and, while this is mature in tiger years, we are happy to see he is in good health for his ago.  Over the hot summer months, he spent a lot of his time lounging in the sun, then soaking in his pool to cool down and breathing in the fresh Tuscan air.

With the help of your donations, Sandro is fed a good quality meat diet six days a week, with extra food given as enrichment, provided in ways to keep him active. One of Sandro’s favoured enrichment items is an entire watermelon, stuffed with meat. Sandro will spend long periods playing with the melon, before eventually smashing it open to reach the tasty treat hidden inside.

At nighttime, Sandro sleeps in a shelter, on a low wooden platform, but generally wakes early before 6am. He has a big stretch and prowls his enclosure listening to the wild birds and other animal noises around the sanctuary. Sandro’s enclosure is designed with the aim to re-create his natural habitat as much as possible, the grass is kept long and there are dense bushes and areas of trees, meaning Sandro can hide away and enjoy his privacy when he chooses.

Sanctuaries vs zoos

We are sometimes asked if it is possible for our rescued big cats to be returned to the wild. Sandro has spent his whole life in captivity and was therefore deprived of the chance to fully develop the incredible skills he would need to survive in the wild. The process of preparing captive wild animals for release back to the wild is an extremely complex, lengthy and costly and, for large mammalian predators like tigers it has an unacceptably low survival rate. For these reasons, Born Free felt the best life we could offer Sandro was lifetime care at our partner sanctuary, Animanatura.

We are also asked if there is any difference between a sanctuary and a zoo. There are many! Unlike zoos, genuine sanctuaries have a no breeding policy – they do not want to add to captive populations, plus sanctuary space is in short supply, so is kept for animals most needing rescue. A genuine sanctuary would never buy or sell animal, or allow direct physical contact between any animal in their care and members of the public.

All the animals in sanctuary care will have been confiscated, relinquished or rescued from inadequate captive conditions, or else been orphaned or injured in the wild and unable to be returned to the wild. Sanctuaries are either closed to visitors or have extremely limited opening hours – usually for small, escorted pre-booked groups only – allowing the animals to spend most of their time without the presence of people. Furthermore, sanctuaries provide their animals with plenty of indoor and outdoor hiding spots, so even in the presence of humans the animal is able to choose if it wants to be seen or remain hidden.

Thank you for all you do to support the care of Sandro and all the animals we help look after in our sanctuaries, or those of our partners. You can help by adopting an animal today.



Adopt an animal today & help protect some of the world's most vulnerable like tigers and elephants. Your animal adoption matters and every penny counts.