Miller Park Zoo gets new tiger
By Roger Miller
BLOOMINGTON — There’s a new tiger in town, and he is a big attraction — literally — for visitors to Miller Park Zoo.
A 9-year-old adult Sumatran tiger named Rojo — “red” in Spanish — was unveiled Friday at the zoo.
He spent the day in the inside portion of his exhibit space at the Katthoefer Animal Building. If he continues to adjust well to his new environment, he will move to the adjoining outdoor space on Sunday morning, said zookeeper Wendy Klessig.
The most striking thing about Rojo is how much bigger he is than the zoo’s other Sumatran tiger, 18-year-old Besar. At 270 pounds, Rojo is 50 pounds heavier and much bigger physically than his much older neighbor.
“He’s in the prime of life, and his head’s really big,” Klessig said. “He has a big presence, and people really are impressed by it.”
Despite his size, Rojo seems to be a “laid-back personality cat,” she said. “He’s really calm and not excited by anything.”
In fact, his transition to his new home went so smoothly, zoo officials put him on display sooner than they initially thought they would be able to, Klessig said.
He roared a couple of times around feeding time, but that was about it, she said. “He seems so comfortable … so unperturbed” about the cross-country move, she said.
Rojo, who is on permanent loan to the Bloomington zoo, arrived Thursday afternoon from the Akron (Ohio) Zoo. Klessig said Akron needed to make room for some yearling tiger cubs, and Miller Park Zoo jumped at the chance to take Rojo.
Besar is “ancient” for a tiger and in failing health, Klessig said. Tigers in the wild generally live about 10 years, and ones in captivity can live about twice as long, she said.
Acquiring Rojo will allow the zoo to continue to have at least one tiger as a star attraction for years to come.
“People like tigers,” Klessig said. “They are a big hit.”
Besar and Rojo are next-door neighbors, but they cannot see each other from their separate enclosures, Klessig said. They definitely are aware of each other because of sound and scent, she said.
“Besar is interested, but not agitated” about the new cat, she said.
If all goes well, Rojo will be outside when the zoo opens at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, she said. It will depend on how he reacts to the environment, the crowds and Besar in the meantime, she said.
“We are playing it by ear,” she said.
The zoo will celebrate Tres (Cinco) de Mayo from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday. In honor of the Mexican holiday celebrated May 5, the zoo will offer free chips and salsa from Qdoba, piñata games, and up close Mexican animal encounters.
The event is free with Zoo admission.