S.F. Zoo vet says tiger was ‘a healthy cat’

S.F. Zoo vet says tiger was ‘a healthy cat’
Marisa Lagos, Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday, July 4, 2008

The San Francisco Zoo consulted with at least four other institutions as well as outside animal nutritionists before determining that Tatiana – the Siberian tiger who escaped and killed a visitor on Christmas – should weigh about 250 pounds.

And that’s what the 4-year-old tiger weighed when she was shot to death by police as she attacked two other visitors. In an interview with The Chronicle on Thursday, chief zoo veterinarian Jacqueline Jencek, who oversaw Tatiana’s diet, said considerable attention went into appropriately feeding the animal, contrary to recent accusations that the big cat was underfed.

Tatiana weighed 292 pounds when she was sent from Denver to San Francisco in November 2005 and 242 pounds at the time of her death. Jencek said the weight change was not that significant for a tiger.

“I never had any medical concerns at all,” she said. “And I never had any red flags from the keeper staff, curators or vets. She was a healthy cat doing everything a normal young wild tiger would do.”

The tiger’s necropsy, conducted by a now-retired zoo veterinarian as well as an outside laboratory, listed her as having “good nutritional status.” And, Jencek added, the zoo evaluates every animal on a scale that runs from 1, or emaciated, to 9, or obese. Jencek routinely rated Tatiana a 5, the ideal score.

Zoo documents show that the tiger keepers spoke with their counterparts at zoos in Oregon, Houston, Philadelphia, Connecticut and Denver to determine the proper diet and weight for Tatiana.

Recent news reports raised questions about how much Tatiana was fed and whether she dropped too much weight after coming to San Francisco.

San Francisco zookeepers, unlike their Denver counterparts, refrain from feeding the big cats once a week to mimic conditions in the wild. But Jencek balked at accusations that the zoo changed the tiger’s diet to make her more active for visitors, noting that Tatiana always had energy and a healthy appetite.

“Like everyone else – in the zoo, with people, with domestic pets – everyone is different when it comes to food,” Jencek said. “Tatiana would have eaten all day if she could have. My housecat would, too.”

Tatiana had a full stomach of undigested meat when she was fatally shot by police, according to the necropsy, and didn’t eat the victim of the attack.

“The only time a cat expends energy is when it has to one, feed; two, breed or mate; or three, when it feels threatened,” Jencek said. “She had a full belly of food and wasn’t looking to breed.”



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