3 big cats explore digs

Avatar BCR | December 29, 2008 0 Likes 0 Ratings

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3 big cats explore digs

Zoo visitors can eye tigers

Sherry Lucas

Good news comes on big cat feet at the Jackson Zoo, where three new Sumatran tigers in the collection are expected to go on display today.

It’s a welcome addition to an attraction recently beleaguered by feral dog attacks that killed several zoo animals.

Changes in the zoo gates, fence checks, increased night security and partnership with the city’s animal control division addressed the problem, zoo director Beth Poff says.

The tigers are three brothers from the Sacramento Zoo, named Kipling, Taymor and Emerson. They’re 3 years old and weigh about 300 pounds each.

They arrived by truck early last week and have been adjusting to their new surroundings.

A new tiger display will go to bid in January, with nine to 14 months of construction expected. Meanwhile, the boy tigers were outgrowing their Sacramento Zoo digs.

“They were just desperate to go ahead and move them because they were getting crowded, the boys were bothering the mother and everything else,” Poff says, “so we went ahead and took them.”

For now, they’re housed in the Jackson Zoo’s old tiger exhibit. That display previously housed an Indochinese tiger sent out on a breeding loan in 2007, and the zoo’s old Sumatran tiger, Phoenix, who suffered from aggressive kidney failure and was euthanized in September.

“Tigers are a really popular animal. People always really enjoy seeing tigers, so it is certainly our hope it’ll help boost attendance just having them here,” Poff says. “And when we move them in their brand new home later next year, hopefully people will come back and see them in that spot as well. So we may get a double visit out of three cats.”

Two of the tigers are donated to the Jackson Zoo and one will likely be sent out on loan to New Orleans’ Audubon Zoo in a year or two, Poff says. Then with a male out, the zoo may receive a female tiger from another zoo for breeding.

The Sumatran tiger, a subspecies of tiger on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is critically endangered from poaching and habitat loss.

Tigers at the Jackson Zoo are part of the Species Survival Plan Program, a scientifically controlled, cooperatively managed breeding program among accredited zoos.

An estimated 400 to 500 Sumatran tigers are left in the wild. The captive population counts 65 in Indonesian zoos, 55 managed by North American zoos, 100 in European zoos and 12 in Australian zoos.

The plan for the zoo’s new tiger exhibit includes glass viewing into a naturalistic setting – an open, grassy, water and tree area with a holding facility out of sight in the back for shifting the animals in and out. “With the glass viewing, you might get a nose to nose experience with a tiger,” Poff says. “Even though they’re almost 300 pounds, they’ve got the same habits of some people’s house cats.”

A cost estimate wasn’t available but could be in the $800,000 to $1 million range. The project comes out of capital improvement funding the zoo received from the state in the 2007-08 budget year, plus additional fundraising.

The tigers are available for adoption, a program that allows individuals or groups to contribute to an animal’s care at levels from $25 to $500 or more.

The tigers bring an optimistic lift to the zoo, where staff grieved the loss of two gazelles and five flamingos to dog attacks last month.

“New animals arriving are big fun, so this was really good to have this happen over the holiday season,” Poff says. “We’re moving forward.”

It’s a boost, too, for potential visitors. “Ooh, wow,” Linda Ferguson, Mississippi Cat Fanciers treasurer, greeted news of the tigers’ arrival. “We definitely would be interested in knowing the zoo is getting something so wonderful and so rare.”

“Oh, yeah – we love cats of all sizes,” said Jo Parris, Southeast regional director of the International Cat Association.

There’s no set time for when the tigers will be on display today.

“It’s up to the tigers. The doors will be open. We’ll see what happens,” Poff said, laughing as she added, “Cats being cats, I don’t know.”



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