By BRUCE DOUGAN, CP
MONCTON, N.B. — Tomar the tiger has made his final bows on the stage where he has been a star for almost two decades.
The Magnetic Hill Zoo, where the old Siberian tiger has lived since he was a cub, held a rare winter open house yesterday so people could come in and say goodbye to an animal who has become an ambassador for a vanishing breed.
Hundreds of people, old and young, streamed into the zoo to see the tiger, who is in kidney failure and may not survive the winter.
There were tears, sad smiles and many shared memories as people lined up along the chain-link fence surrounding Tomar’s enclosure.
For his part, Tomar loafed on a bed of hay, only occasionally strolling along the fence.
Every now and then, a muted roar and an open mouth displaying an impressive arsenal of teeth reminded onlookers that while Siberian tigers are handsome, they’re not huggable.
“He is such a beautiful tiger,” said Melissa Jolicoeur, who drove to Moncton from Fredericton with her four-year-old son, Samuel, to see Tomar. “It’s like something you see in the movies or on television.”
Inside the zoo entrance, people lined up to sign Tomar’s guestbook.
The best wishes from children were simple and poignant.
“I love you,” a girl called Julie wrote in childish scrawl.
“Tomar — the king of the cats,” said another entry.
The cat, who was bred in captivity and born in Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park Zoo, came to the Magnetic Hill facility when he was just five months old.
The Siberian tiger is the largest member of the cat family. They can reach 400 kg in weight.
Bruce Dougan, general manager of the Magnetic Hill Zoo, said Tomar is not in pain.
SIGN OF TROUBLE
“To look at him, you wouldn’t think he was ill and we don’t think he is feeling ill,” said Dougan, adding that Tomar’s weight loss was the first sign of trouble.
“He’s in the early stages of renal failure and we know his time is limited.”
He said the tiger is being monitored daily and if there is any sign of suffering, Tomar will be put to sleep.
Although the tiger has become the symbol for the small zoo, Dougan said it’s too early to think about getting another tiger or tigers.