Big cats welcomed to Highland home
Published: 01 October, 2008
THE world’s biggest cats have now arrived in the strath, but will be kept under wraps for a few more days to allow the giant Amur tigers to get used to their new surroundings near Kincraig.
Keepers at the Highland Wildlife Park hope that Yuri and Sasha, which have already produced two litters of kittens at Edinburgh Zoo, may have similar success following their move to the Highlands.
The weather and environment is very similar to those found in the Russian and Asian mountains, where the endangered sub-species still roams wild, but in ever decreasing numbers.
The big cats arrived at the park on Thursday afternoon following a road trip in secure crates from their former home in the Scottish capital.
They were heavily sedated to reduce stress caused by the journey up the A9, but now seem to be none the worse for their experience.
“Sasha sat in her box with the door open for a while before coming out,” said Doug Richardson, the park’s head of animal collections.
“Yuri, on the other hand, was out like a bullet, but then was a bit wobbly and had to lie down for a while. The important thing was that we did not rush them. They were in control, and came out when they were ready.”
By Thursday evening, the pair were more alert and were eagerly exploring their new surroundings – a large enclosure complete with water feature which was erected with the help of the Army’s Royal Engineers.
“We won’t allow them out into their enclosure for a few days, so that they get adjusted to where they are now,” Mr Richardson said. “Then we will leave the door open for them to wander out when they feel comfortable.”
The tigers will finally meet the public at their new home when Mr Richardson and his colleagues are satisfied that they have settled into their new surroundings. The outdoor enclosure is larger than the one they had in Edinburgh.
“Cats don’t get any bigger than these,” Mr Richardson said. “Amur tigers are the largest sub-species of tiger, and also one of the most endangered.
“The conditions they will find here are not unlike what they would encounter in the wild, and we can recreate those without spending the millions of dollars that some of our American colleagues have had to.
“Basically the environments of Scotland and the Amur region of Russia have a lot in common, so they should feel quite at home here.”
The tigers have already been an important part of an international captive breeding programme to boost the number of Amur tigers, the wild population of which has fallen to about 450 adults.
In the past, they were known as Siberian tigers, but when they died out in that part of Russia and were limited to the Amur region, they were renamed.
Tourism leaders and local business predicted that the arrival of Sasha and Yuri would provide a massive draw not only for the wildlife park but the wider strath.
Mr Scott Armstrong, VisitScotland’s director for the Highlands, said: “This is extremely encouraging news, and could potentially result in increased visitor numbers not only to the park but the surrounding areas.
“Due to the current economic climate, it is a great time to explore what is on our doorstep, and these tigers will provide a unique experience both for locals and those venturing here from further afield.”
Mr Duncan Mackellar, chairman of Cairngorm Chamber of Commerce, was also delighted to hear of the safe arrival of the park’s impressive additions.
He said: “Investment in any business is very important, and the arrival of these tigers demonstrates that the Highland Wildlife Park is investing in its business. This can only enhance their appeal and the educational opportunities they offer for both locals and visitors.”
Some 100 personnel from the 39 Royal Engineers, armed with picks and shovels as well as heavy earth-moving equipment, set to work on the new £400,000 enclosure last September, and park bosses are delighted with the results.
The arrival of the big cats is part of the Highland Wildlife Park’s new wider focus on animals from mountain and tundra habitats around the world.
Around £7 million is expected to be spent over the next six to ten years on a masterplan to boost visitor numbers to the attraction.
The tigers are not the only species of cat represented in the park which is in peril. Their smaller Scottish cousin, the wildcat, is now believed to number a mere 400 adults in the wild.
Other new residents at the park include Japanese snow monkeys, red pandas, yaks and kiangs (Tibetan wild asses).
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at https://bigcatrescue.org
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