Tiger climbing down stairs

Photo: Meredith Lee/The Humane Society of the United States

A group of tigers that were part of a dramatic roadside zoo bust in 2012 are now kicking back in a newly constructed habitat that opened in August at the Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas.

The 5-acre complex is unlike anything these rescued tigers have ever seen before. Instead of the tiny concrete and chain-link cage that they once called home, the new digs feature three distinct yards with wooded areas, waterfalls, elevated wooden platforms, a shallow lagoon, a 5-foot-deep pool and a natural pond.

All of this space means that the big cats are free to roll around in lush grass, climb trees and splash in fresh water.

Nuzzling tigers

Photo: Meredith Lee/The Humane Society of the United States

As evidenced in the photo above, the tigers are doing well today, but it's important to remember that the picture wasn't always so rosy.

Tiger in a small cage with murky pool

Photo: Kathy Milani/The Humane Society of the United States

Their journey to freedom began in the fall of 2009, when an undercover investigator for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) spent nearly a month working and documenting the poor living conditions of animals at Collins Zoo, a roadside attraction in Mississippi. The investigator observed self-mutilating macaques, emaciated cougars and even a gravely ill black wolf that died without receiving any veterinary care.

Tigers in small cage

Photo: Kathy Milani/The Humane Society of the United States

One of the most egregious examples of abuse include the treatment of the resident tigers, which spent the bulk of their lives confined to a tiny chain-link cage. In addition to the horrible cages, one of the tigers, named Natalia, was in the beginning stages of renal failure due to an unbalanced, chicken-only diet.

"It was just a very barren sort of existence" reflects Adam Parascandola, the director of HSUS' animal cruelty investigations. "No grass. No logs or anything to claw on. Nothing like that."

Tiger being rescued by HSUS

Photo: Kathy Milani/The Humane Society of the United States

To save these gorgeous yet neglected animals, HSUS submitted the troubling findings from the undercover investigation to the Mississippi government. After some time, rescue operation was carried out in 2012. Thanks to a dedicated team of law enforcement, veterinarians and other volunteers, 11 animals were liberated.

Tranquilized tiger

Photo: Kathy Milani/The Humane Society of the United States

Check out the video below to witness the dramatic rescue:

After leaving the zoo, the tigers were released into a temporary shelter where they lived until the Black Beauty Ranch finished construction of the new habitat. Continue below for more images of the big cats enjoying their new forever home.

 
Tiger in pool

Photo: Brandon Wade/AP Images for The Humane Society of the United States

Resting tiger

Photo: Brandon Wade/AP Images for The Humane Society of the United States

Tiger lounging in the pool

Photo: Meredith Lee/The Humane Society of the United States

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Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.