10-year-old tiger dies, reasons unknown
Posted: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 12:30 pm
ZooMontana officials are awaiting lab results that may reveal why the zoo’s female Amur tiger, Luna, died at 5 a.m. Sunday.
“It was Saturday morning when they noticed she wasn’t really feeling up to herself,” said Jenny Moellendorf, public-relations and marketing coordinator with ZooMontana. “From what we can tell, she was feeling fine on Friday.”
The zoo has sent tissue and blood for a necropsy, hoping to find an answer for the 10-year-old tiger’s death.
“She wasn’t that old,” Moellendorf said. “That’s why they’re trying to figure out what happened. We should have results in at least two weeks.”
Luna came to ZooMontana on Jan. 5, 2006, from the Minnesota Zoo. Described as a “surplus cat,” she had never been exhibited to the public before coming to ZooMontana. Curator Travis Goebel spent a lot of time working with the large feline.
“She was extremely wild, and when you’re dealing with any tiger, you have to really mind yourself,” he said. “When she got here, she had no idea of what to expect or what we expected from her.”
Gradually, Luna became used to the exhibit and would pace in front of the glass partition and bat at visitors.
“The last couple of years, she’s really come out of her shell,” Goebel said. “Speaking to visitors, she’s excellent. She would not shy away from coming up to that windowed area.”
Luna shared the exhibit with Prince, the zoo’s male Amur tiger. Prince was temporarily off exhibit while plants were assessed for any potential dangers.
“Our grounds guy put together a list of about 50, 60 plants in the exhibit, and nothing came back as an obvious sign,” Goebel said. “We combed that exhibit, mowed it down twice, actually, over the last couple of days.”
No hazards came up in the search, and so Prince was put back into the exhibit at 10 a.m. Wednesday. The keepers are currently charged with keeping him occupied.
“Prince might have some depression,” Goebel said. “The day after, we heard him making some vocalizations that we hadn’t heard before, so he knew something was going on. We’re trying to keep him pretty busy. Ripping up cardboard boxes is his favorite thing to do.”
Pending the necropsy results, ZooMontana staff is “at a loss,” Goebel said. “She crashed pretty quickly. That’s obviously the hardest part when you don’t know.”
Captive tigers can live up to 20 years, while their counterparts in the wild generally reach the age of 12. TJ, the zoo’s first tiger, died last fall at the Riverbanks Zoo in South Carolina.
“I believe he was 16 or 17,” Goebel said.
Luna’s mother suffered from feline cancer and had to be euthanized.
“That’s a possibility,” Goebel said. “It can be a genetic thing. I hate even speculating until we get those firm results back.”
Until then, the zoo staff will mourn its loss. “Luna was really something special,” Moellendorf said.