2 disabled Siberian tigers ready for public debut
(Mar. 22, 2009)
Two Siberian tigers, a male named Taiga and a female named Cocoa, born with disabilities at Kushiro Municipal Zoo in Hokkaido in May and raised by zookeepers are scheduled to go on public display on a regular basis from April 5.
The tigers, an endangered species also known as Amur tigers, suffer from achondroplasia, a genetic disorder that affects cartilage growth and formation. Zoo staff initially believed the tigers would never be able to walk.
A 4-year-old-old tiger named Choko gave birth to them on May 24 last year, but they nearly died and the mother rejected them. As the tigers' hind legs were crossed, they were examined at Rakuno Gakuen University in Ebetsu, Hokkaido, and found to have achondroplasia.
Taiga and Cocoa are in relatively good health, which is surprising as animals with this disorder are not known to have lived for such a long time before. Zoo attendants cared for the tigers and ensured they exercised to encourage cartilage growth. It is believed to be the first time for Siberian tigers with disabilities to have been raised by humans.
The tigers prefer to sit or stretch out, but Cocoa occasionally runs, using all four legs, and Taiga has started to walk, but does not use his left hind leg. Both weigh over 30 kilograms.
The zoo has constructed a new 16-meter by seven-meter enclosure for the tigers at a cost of 55 million yen. The enclosure includes an area where they can move around that is twice the size of similar areas in the lion and leopard cages.
"At first, we thought they would not live long. But lately they've impressed us with their strength and vitality," said Yoshio Yamaguchi, director of the zoo.
Yoshihiko Shimatani, assistant manager of the breeding and exhibition section at Kobe Oji Zoo in Hyogo Prefecture, who heads the nation's tiger pedigree control, said, "We can't be sure how the tigers' legs will develop, but are hopeful they will develop without additional problems."