Confiscated tiger cubs living it up at Gladys Porter Zoo

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Confiscated tiger cubs living it up at Gladys Porter Zoo

December 4, 2008 – 3:00 PM
Kevin Sieff
The Brownsville Herald

BROWNSVILLE — As only infants, they were stars, faces of the state’s booming exotic animal trade. But six months after a failed transaction in front of a McAllen Wal-Mart, six Bengal tiger cubs have settled into their adolescent lives at the Gladys Porter Zoo.

Through the exhibit’s glass pane, the cubs – four white ones and two orange ones – hardly look any worse for wear, bounding through their own private Sumatra.

They wrestle each other to the ground, rolling until white fur has become brown with dirt. They each eat 10 pounds of beef a day before waiting – sometimes patiently – for their next meal.

“Most zoos would have turned them away,” said Jerry Stones, the zoo’s facilities director. “But I guess you could say we’re a little more open-minded.”

Actually, the young felines have become one of the zoo’s biggest attractions.

When Tigger, one of the four white tigers, skulks past the glass pane, he’s greeted by the voices of visiting children. Inbreeding – common in the exotic animal trade – has left him cross-eyed, far from a model of his brethren outside of captivity.

The six tigers, Noj, Neb, Jaycee, Kendall, Tigger and a still-unnamed cub, will each weigh more than 300 pounds in a couple of years and will have cost the zoo thousands of dollars in food and resources.

“We step up when the government needs us,” Stones said. “But we’re still hoping to get rid of some of these.”

Before the saga of the rescued tigers ends, they could end up in a wild cat sanctuary or another zoo. But for now, they join Gladys Porter’s motley crew of “pet byproducts,” as Stones calls them.

For decades, the zoo has been taking in lions, tigers, ostriches and other erstwhile pets, each with its own story of abandonment, its own small part in the sometimes illicit, but nearly always senseless, trade in exotic animals.

“People purchase them on a whim, like it’s nothing,” Stones said. “Here, they’re a draw. The people love them.”

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