Simba with caretaker Erin Timmer and Tess Kroon at FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary.

Women’s Day Celebration: Our Female Guardians Worldwide

In a world where animal cruelty is still at play, we bring you some of the strong female heroes and guardians that make it their sole mission in life to bring the suffering of animals to an end. 


We reveal animal cruelty

Animal cruelty represents what is wrong with the world; where humans feel they have the right to exploit animals for commercial gain. The only solution is to find a way the world cannot profiteer from these animals. This is why FOUR PAWS have joined forces with various other NGO’s in the fight against the captive breeding industry in South Africa. Together we can make a change, together we can petition Government to change laws, raise awareness so that consumers change their behaviour and give needy animals species appropriate lifelong homes at True Sanctuaries.

The eye opener for Fiona Miles, Director of FOUR PAWS in South Africa was after she watched a shocking documentary on television about a lioness being shot in front of her cub in a fenced area. This cruel and unjust practise left Fiona feeling sick to her stomach, and the reality is that most people are not even aware of what is happening to our majestic lions in South Africa. Soon Fiona’s path crossed with an amazing team from FOUR PAWS who had the same passion and a great vision where all the cages are empty. Together they took on the mammoth task of turning a breeding farm, where big cats were exploited for commercial gain, into a True Sanctuary, LIONSROCK. Nearly, 19 years later, the FOUR PAWS team have rescued over 150 big cats from around the world.

Fiona Miles, Director of FOUR PAWS in South Africa

Every roar that echoes between the escarpment of LIONSROCK is a reminder to Fiona that they have saved an animal and are giving them the best possible life; but it is also a reminder that the job is not done yet. Together we can T as we are far from a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding.

We rescue animals under direct human influence 

You have seen the pictures of substandard zoos, where animals find themselves in the most unthinkable conditions. This is as a result of animals being under direct human control – which would never have been the case did they have the opportunity to roam in the wild. When we become aware of situations like these, it is important to act fast and effectively – most times having to persuade a magnitude of powerful people to surrender the animals to FOUR PAWS. This needs to be done with precision, but also keeping in mind that for some animals in these conditions, time could be running out. To successfully rescue animals in need, require a person with charisma and who has perfected the art of persuasion. That person is Ioana Gabriela Dungler, our Special Advisor Programmes.

Ioana Gabriela Dungler, Special Advisor Programmes

To put it simply: If Ioana was the captain of a ship with a storm approaching, she would be the one making tough decisions to get the whole team safe on the other side. She never gives up on an animal, and by being persistent and giving direction, she gets the job done and the animals to safety. Team spirit and humour are part of her successful formula. 

Barbara van Genne, Director Wild Animals

Like steering any ship, you need a team to help you weather the storm. Barbara van Genne, Director Wild Animals is one of the team members you want on a ship. A successful rescue is only possible with thorough planning of every little detail: From who needs to go, each person’s responsibility in the rescue, to arranging flights, ensuring paperwork is correct and that our supporters are kept updated on the rescue; Barbara coordinates a rescue – making it possible for the teams to do this effectively. One small mistake or if something is forgotten could have a major impact on a rescue, and therefore planning is extremely important. Of course, things sometimes change at the last minute, and this is when the team pulls together to prioritise and find solutions for problems that we might face. 

With a successful rescue, animals are transported to our sanctuaries where there are guardians waiting to give them lifelong care in a species-appropriate environment.

We protect animals for the rest of their lives 

Our sanctuaries give animals a second lease on life – where they get the nutrition they need, medical care, enrichment to stimulate their natural behaviour and is the place where they can flourish again. To achieve this for the animals, we have teams dedicated to achieving these goals. Hildegard Pirker, Sanctuary Manager, at our LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary, is one of these people. 

Born Austrian, she came to South Africa with the first international transfer and has been calling LIONSROCK home for nearly 18 years. She and her team take care of more around 100 big cats – a job that calls for focus and dedication.  

Two full days a week are dedicated to feeding all the resident big cats at LIONSROCK, those with special care are fed smaller portions, and some of these need to be daily.  These big cats coming from private keeping, intensive breeding farms, zoos and circuses. Inadequate nutrition from early on has led to a large number of them needing supplementation whilst the older big cats with special needs might need medication – some daily. Aside from these intensive tasks, enclosures need to be maintained, enrichment needs to be prepared for the big cats and there needs to be careful monitoring of the animals to make sure we detect any medical problems as and when they arise.   

Hildegard Pirker_Site Manager LIONSROCK

Hildegard Pirker, Sanctuary Manager, LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary

Hildegard and her team have a lot to prepare for the rescued animals. On the day of arrival, she and her team usually leave before sunrise and arrive again at LIONSROCK late in the afternoon. She checks and assesses the animals, refills their water and then off to LIONSROCK where she leads the release of the animals and makes sure they settle in. In the weeks following the arrival of new big cats, she monitors them closely, builds trust, and ultimately ensures that the big cats who come to LIONSROCK get to live their happiest lives. 

more of our inspiring animal guardians worldwidE


FELIDA Big Cat Centre in the Netherlands

Simone Schuls: Sanctuary Manager of FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary 

Working for FOUR PAWS since: June 2014

Description of her work
: Simone Schuls is the Site Manager of FELIDA Big Cat Sanctuary in the Netherlands. FOUR PAWS International was requested to help a Dutch rescue centre in late 2013 and this led to a complete takeover. Simone Schuls came on board right after the takeover and turned the centre into a safe, high quality special care centre for traumatized big cats who require special care and a second chance in life. 

Favorite animals
: FELIDA takes care of a small amount of big cats and Simone has no favorite: they are all very special to her and according to Simone they all deserve a second chance like no other!

Quote: “ How we treat animals also says something about our civilization. Sharing our work with as many people as possible creates a conversation about animal welfare and how we want to treat the world and its animals. The animals at FELIDA deserve a second chance like no other!"

BEAR SANCTUARY Prishtina in Kosovo

Albana Hoti: Chief Animal Keeper at BEAR SANCTUARY Prishtina 

Working for FOUR PAWS since: September 2014

Short description of your work: Albana Hoti is the Chief Bear Keeper of BEAR SANCTUARY Prishtina and works constantly on the daily management of 20 brown bears all rescued from private keeping in Kosovo and Albania. Albana Hoti is also in charge of managing 7 animal caretakers at the sanctuary and she is working on training all the bears – which is an important part of her job. Her day at work usually starts with her checking if all the enclosures are in good condition along with the bears, and preparing the medications for those who need them.

Favorite animal and why: “
All 20 bears are special to me and have different features that makes me love them and distinguish them from one another. However, I feel a little bit more connected to our little one, bear Andri, as I met him and held him in my arms when he was only about a month old”.

Quote: “The fact that I'm able to help animals in need, those who doesn't have a voice to speak for themselves has always made me feel motivated to contribute more and more, and especially when I see our bears relaxed (smiling at me) is an extra inspiration for my daily work at the sanctuary. Since I started working for the sanctuary, I noticed a big change in my society and their mentality toward animal welfare, I always try to spread the word on how important it is for everyone of us to treat animals right and how much impact we can all have in making things better in a large scheme.”

BEAR SANCTUARY Arbesbach in Austria

Gerlinde Mairhofer: Animal keeper & Administration

Working for FOUR PAWS since: March 2014 

Short description of your work
: Main job: care for the bears and besides she does Facebook posts, the website (with Lena), tries to get good pictures and videos of the bears and does some administration work and guided tours.

Favorite animal and why:
 Gerlinde has no favorite animal. Each of the bears is special and gorgeous and has deserved respect and all the care he or she needs.

Quote: “We should treat ALL living beings respectfully and with care till their very end - also those of we humans think, they were ugly.”

TIERART in Germany

Eva Lindenschmidt: Head of Visitor Operations

Working for FOUR PAWS since: 2013 for the TIERART association that started a cooperation with FOUR PAWS in 2015

Short description of your work: The daily routine at TIERART is very varied and therefore very exciting. Eva Lindenschmidt is mainly busy in the office with administrative and organizational work, but if there is a need she also helps with the care of the animals and supports the rearing of young animals or outdoor work when injured animals need to be rescued.

Favorite animal and why: It is difficult to choose a favorite animal given the variety of animal species we care for at TIERART and individual stories behind them. Every animal can be fascinating, no matter if it is a proud tiger or a small squirrel. It is a privilege to be surrounded by tigers, raccoons and other wild animals every day at work. If I had to choose a favorite animal species, it would be foxes, in addition to big cats. They are very intelligent, fascinatingly beautiful and unfortunately, they often have a bad reputation as chicken thieves or disease carriers.  My first bottle fed baby at TIERART was a fox and for me a special experience.

Quote: At TIERART we give animals a second chance to live a life appropriate to their species. Most of them have suffered under the influence of humans before. To gain the trust of a wild animal that has previously had only bad experiences with humans is the most beautiful compliment I can imagine and always a special experience. I wish that society would appreciate our nature and wildlife more and work harder to protect them.

BEAR SANCTUARY Domazhyr in ukraine

Nataliya Halayko: Deputy Director Wild Animal Department

Working for FOUR PAWS since: March 15, 2018

Short description of your work
: I started at BEAR SANCTUARY Domazhyr as a Chief Caretaker in 2018. Now my work continues as a Chief Caretaker managing staff of 6 animal caretakers , animal welfare (food ordering, ordering and managing intake of prescribed medications, organization of bears rescues and  vet checks), managing construction site (checking if contractors are filling out sanctuary requirements). Also, my duties include control and development of emergency plans in the sanctuary, environmental education.

Favorite animal and why:  
All animals are special for me and I’m happy they are in safe place now. They all require a lot of attention, some of them even more than others. Our team including me are happy to see improvement in health, behavior, and socialization process of rescued bears. By the end of construction period our sanctuary can house up to 30 bears, every rescue is very special work and unique experience for me.

Quote: “An animal eyes have the power to speak a great language”- Martin Buber. 
Through bear eyes we can see how much they suffered in a previous life. Our team is working hard on rehabilitation of the bears and building a new trust.


Dr. Signe Preuschoft 

FOUR PAWS has been committed to the rehabilitation of traumatized orangutan orphans on Borneo for over ten years. After restructuring the activities on site, FOUR PAWS opened the ORANGUTAN FOREST SCHOOL in East Kalimantan in May 2018. 

Under the lead of the renowned Primatologist Dr. Signe Preuschoft, International Head of FOUR PAWS Ape Protection, an Indonesian team consisting of caregivers, biologists and veterinarians takes care of several orangutan orphans and prepare them for a release into rainforest. 

Dr. Preuschoft’s vision is to become a global voice in great ape rehabilitation and to improve the state of great ape rehabilitation worldwide.

BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh in Vietnam

Emily Lloyd: Animal Manager

Working for FOUR PAWS since: 2013

Description of work
: Emily is the Animal Manager at BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh and is responsible for the bears and the team of caretakers and veterinarians who manage them. This involves design and implementation of ever evolving nutrition, husbandry and enrichment protocols for bears of all ages and health statuses, managing integrations, hand rearing rescued cubs, training local bear caretakers etc etc.  She also organizes the logistics, and is overall lead for all FOUR PAWS bear rescues in Vietnam, works on facility design, construction and maintenance as well as advising other rescue centers in Vietnam.  She has been working on this project since it’s inception, and was previously chief keeper at FOUR PAWS BEAR SANCTUARY Prishtina.  

Favorite animals
: Thai Van - from our first rescue, she is the one bear I specifically train with and she is just so charismatic and intelligent, and Keo – her transformation has been incredible and she is so sweet natured and curious it’s not possible not to adore her.  I’m not ashamed to have favourites.

Quote: "We hope to continue to expand and rescue more bears, contributing to the end of bear farming in Vietnam, whilst providing the highest standard of animal care."

There are many more wonderful, determined, passionate and knowledgeable women in the FOUR PAWS family, and to all of them we say thank you! 

Together, we can make change, petition governments to change laws, raise awareness for consumers to change their behaviour and rescue and protect more animal in need. 

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