Point Defiance hopes tigers feeling a little frisky

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Point Defiance hopes tigers feeling a little frisky

New arrival: Male Sumatran tiger brought in to breed with resident female

JOYCE CHEN; The News Tribune
Last updated: September 19th, 2009 03:56 AM (PDT)

There’s a new stud tiger in town.

The 11-year-old Sumatran tiger arrived this week at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, where officials hope he will breed with Jaya, the 6-year-old resident female tiger. The new animal came from the San Francisco Zoo.

“It’s very exciting for us,” said Point Defiance general curator Karen Goodrowe Beck.

“It’s so important we have good reproductive pairs; we want as many offspring born as possible.”

The Sumatran tiger is listed as critically endangered, she said, with about 70 living in captivity in North America and 250 in the wild, on the Indonesia island of Sumatra.

The smallest tiger subspecies, they are distinguished by their dark orange fur, broad stripes and long ruffs on the males. A typical litter has two to four cubs.

As of Friday afternoon, the newest zoo tenant was adjusting well to his temporary digs out of the public eye, said zookeeper Andy Goldfarb.

“He’s a mellow guy,” Goldfarb said. “He’s already produced two litters, so he knows what he’s doing.”

But Point Defiance is not expected to be a three-tiger zoo for long. The new arrival means the days are numbered for Java, the 11-year-old male tiger who was brought to Tacoma in March 2006 for the purpose of mating with Jaya.

They didn’t make a love connection.

Goodrowe Beck attributed the unfruitful coupling to a lack of experience in both parties.

“He wasn’t very amorous; he didn’t know what to do with her.”

Personality was also an issue: “Jaya is a laid-back cat, a little tentative,” Goodrowe Beck said. “Java wanted to roar at her rather than be accommodating.”

The new tiger has had two names.

For about 10 years, he was called Bali before being dubbed George by a donor. Zoo officials haven’t settled on a name.

He weighs 294 pounds and measures about 7 feet from the nose to the tip of the tail. Since his arrival Tuesday night, he’s been in quarantine in a small holding area with bars, with access to the outdoors but not the Asian Forest Sanctuary exhibit space.

In keeping with standard zoo practice, he won’t make his public debut for a month. His handlers will watch his health and behavior patterns closely.

Bali/George almost came to Point Defiance 3 1/2 years ago instead of Java, when the brothers were living in captivity in Denver. At the time, Goldfarb championed Bali as Jaya’s mate, but Denver zookeepers didn’t want to give him up.

“Every time I visited, I thought, ‘Bali is so cool; Java is a jerk,’ ” Goldfarb said.

It turns out his instincts were right, at least in terms of mating prowess.

In June, zoo officials in Tacoma and San Francisco agreed to move Bali/George as a more experienced partner for Jaya.

Java will leave Tacoma for the Los Angeles Zoo at an undetermined date; for a period of time, all three tigers will be on display, a first for Point Defiance. As solitary creatures, however, the tigers will be kept in separate exhibits, especially the two males.

Goldfarb predicted the brothers would recognize each other.

“They grew up together until they were 9,” he said. “I don’t want him to be thinking of him – I want him to be thinking of her.”

After the new tiger leaves quarantine, he and Jaya will live side by side, separated by a mesh metal gate.

“We call it a howdy panel,” Goldfarb said. “They can touch and smell each other.”

Gradually, zoo officials hope, nature and kitty chemistry will take its course. If Jaya and her new paramour hit it off, expect multiple breeding sessions – around six to 10 times a day.

We won’t go into the details here, but their coupling wouldn’t measure up to the human ideal of romance.

There is sparring and swatting involved.

“No cuddling,” Goodrowe Beck said.



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