By Andrew Bomford
He weighs 260kg, has a bone-crushing bite and paws the size of dinner plates, but Phevos the tiger is the latest victim of Greece's economic crisis - and this week he left the country for a new home on other side of the world.
Most of the time Phevos is a gentle creature. I sat with him the day before his journey, and he was quiet, content and passive.
"He reacts very well to being softly spoken to. He listens when I talk to him. He twitches his ears, and he loves having his head rubbed," says David Barnes, a former RSPCA inspector.
Barnes has spent the past year arranging to rescue Phevos from a small zoo in Trikala, central Greece, which has struggled to look after its exotic animals in the face of the cuts which have hit every aspect of Greek life.
"But he is a tiger. I've seen him turn - he did it the other day - when he sees someone he doesn't like. That tells me straight away, something bad happened there. He's very, very, clever."
Barnes talks to Phevos continuously. The 41 stone (573lb) tiger knows and recognises human faces and reacts positively to people he trusts.
The zoo used to have a resident vet but it couldn't afford to employ her. She is still consulted occasionally but there is no longer constant veterinary care.
For a long time, Barnes was also worried that some animals weren't getting the right food. Then in March the other tiger at Trikala, Athena, died from complications brought on by a badly infected paw.
"It was neglect," says Barnes. "Pure and simple. If that had happened in Britain there would have been prosecutions without a shadow of a doubt. It took four months just to get permission from the Greek government to anaesthetise her. That's crazy."
Until his departure from Greece, Phevos - who is part Bengal tiger and part Siberian - was actually owned by the Greek government.
The new home for Phevos is the Lions, Tigers and Bears Sanctuary in Alpine, California. He'll be with other tigers there, and will get the veterinary attention he needs for hip dysplasia - a congenital problem which causes pain when he walks.
It probably stems from interbreeding in the travelling circus where he began his life. Barnes rescued him from the circus 13 years ago so this is the second time he has intervened to improve his quality of life.
For Barnes, the main hurdle in this whole process has been less to do with the practical challenges of shipping a large tiger, and more about finding a route through the maze of bureaucracy.
"Around every corner there was something blocking the way," he says. "It took eight months to sort out the paperwork. I've been emailing, texting, and telephoning. There've been times when I've thought it's not going to happen. But once I'd decided I was going to do it, I had to do it. I had to carry it through."
It took extensive negotiation with the Greek and US governments, as well as the local authorities in Trikala. Special permits had to be obtained under CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) because there are only about 3,000 tigers left in the wild.
A last minute hitch emerged a couple of hours before departure, when a new demand came from the shipping agents that under IATA (International Air Transport Association) regulations each air hole in Phevos's crate had to be 5cm wide. A carpenter was rushed to the zoo, so some holes could be widened.
"Then we had to deal with customs and the veterinary authorities for health certificates - he's been vaccinated, micro-chipped, and he's been blood-tested. But the longest wait wasn't Greece. It was the American authorities for the import licence," says Barnes.
"From what I understand, the USA does not actively encourage the importation of big cats because they think they've got enough in the USA. The sanctuary he's going to has never brought an animal in from outside the country before."
Then getting Phevos into the crate was another challenge. Even the sight of his favourite meal - a chicken (he eats 35 a week) - failed to tempt him in. Eventually after 30 minutes of failed coaxing, a vet tranquilized him and he was dragged in by ropes attached to his paws, after which he was woken up again. More....