Laziz the tiger
Laziz the tigerAbed Rahim Khatib/ Flash 90

Three days after leaving behind a cramped and dingy cage at the Khan Younis zoo in Gaza, Laziz the tiger arrived in South Africa on Thursday.

Gaza zoo's last tiger was one of 15 animals rescued this week from what has been dubbed the "worst zoo in the world".

"When we decided to step in, it was a critical situation not only for Laziz but also for the other 14 animals," said Ioana Dungler, wild animals director at non-profit Four Paws.

The animals faced starvation or or the prospect of being traded or transferred somewhere else.

When Khan Younis zoo opened in 2007, it housed more than 100 animals.

But with repeated wars and few visitors, the owners struggled to afford food and many of the animals starved to death.

"It was really a question of life and death. Not only because they would die of starvation, but they could also have been traded or transferred somewhere else and then nobody would find them again," Dungler said.

While his monkey, emu and porcupine co-habitants were sent to sanctuaries in nearby Israel and Jordan, Laziz (Arabic for "cutey") was bound for more distant shores -- some 6,700 kilometres (4,160 miles) away.

After a severely delayed nine-hour flight from Israel, the tiger and the Four Paws team arrived in Johannesburg on Thursday, where Laziz was inspected before beginning the next stage of his journey to LionsRock.

LionsRock a sanctuary for big cats deep in South Africa's Free State province outside of Bethlehem, three hours away from Johannesburg.

"He's very calm," veterinarian Marina Strydom said after examining him at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.

'Calm and doesn't seem stressed'

"He's been in the crate since Monday, so it's a long trip for him this far. But he seems calm and doesn't seem stressed. He's not agitated."

For months, vets from Four Paws had been visiting the Khan Younis zoo in southern Gaza to treat the animals and transfer them out.

And after his long journey, Strydom was anxious to see how the nine-year-old tiger would behave once released.

As his crate was opened, Laziz raised his head, looked over his shoulder at the enclosure behind him, and stayed firmly put, his back to the open space.

It took another 10 minutes -- and a chunky bribe of meat -- before he turned suddenly and slunk out of the box onto solid, grassy land.

He moved slowly, his body low to the ground, his legs stiff from the long journey in the small crate. The team will now observe his behaviour for a few weeks before releasing him into a larger space.

But it won't be the wilderness -- that option no longer exists for Laziz.

"He doesn't know how to hunt. He doesn't know how to be a tiger," said Dungler.