S.F. Zoo pulls Tony the tiger from moat
Jill Tucker, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Tony the tiger was feeling grrrreat, albeit a bit groggy Tuesday, one day after firefighters and San Francisco Zoo officials hit him with tranquilizer darts and pulled him out of a moat where he spent four nights.
The 360-pound Siberian tiger, who is 18 years old, or 90 in cat years, had climbed down Thursday into the dry moat in the tiger enclosure.
The spot is one of his favorite places in the outdoor enclosure, but this time, he refused to leave.
Given his age, zoo officials didn't want to try to starve him out. So they tossed his daily dose of medicine-laced meatballs, other food and buckets of water into the moat. Tony played with the buckets and looked healthy and content in the moat, with no sign he wanted to leave.
"He just was not motivated to climb the steps or rocks to return to his exhibit," said mammal curator Ingrid Russell-White said in a statement.
"He was getting room service," zoo spokeswoman Lora LaMarca said.
On Monday, zoo officials decided enough was enough. The tiger poop in the moat was getting out of control and with rain forecast, they worried the water mixing with his food would draw flies and create a health hazard, LaMarca said.
That's when San Francisco firefighters got the call to help rescue a cat - albeit not one stuck in a tree.
"It's a very unusual call," said Fire Department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge.
The firefighters set up the kind of rescue used to pull someone up from a cliff.
"The setup is all the same, the equipment is all the same," Talmadge said. "The subject just happened to be a tiger."
Anesthetized and intubated, Tony was loaded onto a board, strapped down and hauled out with a pulley about 8:30 a.m.
It took a little more than two hours to complete the mission, zoo officials said.
On Tuesday, Tony was resting comfortably in his night enclosure and was on exhibit later in the day.
He won't be allowed outside until the curators can figure out how to keep him from getting into the moat again, LaMarca said.
Tony's most recent veterinary review showed him in good health, although showing signs of senility, zoo officials said.
Siberian tigers have a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years in the wild and 14 to 20 years in captivity. The zoo has two other tigers, Leanne, a 7-year-old female Sumatran tiger, and 21-year-old Padang. Tony, at the zoo since 1993, likes to be alone.
"Why he went down and stayed down, who knows," LaMarca said. He is, after all, a cat.
"They've got minds of their own."