Tabib, Louisville Zoo’s female tiger, dies on Christmas Eve

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Tabib, Louisville Zoo’s female tiger, dies on Christmas Eve

December 29, 11:12 PM Louisville City Hall Examiner Thomas McAdam

Tabib (pronounced Tuh Beeb), an 18-year-old Sumatran tiger, passed away at the Louisville Zoo on December 24. Eighteen is considered to be geriatric for big cats.

Zoo keeper staff and veterinary team began a close watch on Tabib in early 2009 as her health began to decline. Symptoms included deteriorating vision, suspected hearing loss and signs of spinal disease suggested by decreased mobility and weakness and instability in her rear legs.

While Zoo veterinarians prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs to help keep Tabib comfortable and treat her symptoms, keepers also made special housing accommodations with the addition of extra-soft bedding and the removal of steps out of her bedroom.

On the morning of December 24, keeper staff found Tabib having a seizure. “That was the culmination of her decline in health,” Louisville Zoo Veterinarian Dr. Zoli Gyimesi said. Zoo staff then made the decision to humanely euthanize Tabib.

“She will be greatly missed,” said Jane Anne Franklin, Louisville Zoo Supervisor of Animal Training who cared for Tabib. “She was a cat with a wonderful personality that thrived on interaction with those who cared for her. I will definitely miss the close relationship and connection we shared.”

Tabib, with her laidback demeanor and temperament, also made a good mother. In 2004, Tabib gave birth at the Louisville Zoo to three cubs—Mohan who now resides at the Memphis Zoo, Jai (pronounced Jay) who now resides at the Phoenix Zoo and Leela who still resides at the Louisville Zoo.

“The passing of Tabib is a great loss to our staff and community,” Louisville Zoo Director John Walczak said. “Our Zoo’s charge is to better the bond between people and our planet and Tabib was a wonderful ambassador for that mission. She was also a significant contributor in helping to preserve a critically endangered species with her three offspring.”

There are only approximately 73 Sumatran tigers in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Survival Plan (SSP), a collaborative effort of North American zoos designed to encourage a healthy Sumatran tiger population in captivity to ensure that the population remains genetically-diverse and self-sustaining. There are less than 400 Sumatran tigers in the wild.

Earlier this year, the Louisville Zoo received a breeding recommendation from the SSP for the Zoo’s two remaining Sumatran tigers—5-year-old male Sparky and 5-year-old female Leela (Tabib’s daughter). The Louisville Zoo is also home to two Amur tigers, the largest of the tiger subspecies.

It is Franklin’s hope that Tabib’s enduring legacy will live on through Leela’s future offspring.


Sumatran tigers are native to the island of Sumatra.

Sumatran tigers are the smallest of the remaining five tiger subspecies. Three tiger subspecies—the Bali, Javan, and Caspian—have become extinct in the past 70 years.

Sumatran tigers are different from other tigers in appearance with their longer cheek hair and closer-set, narrower stripes on a more vivid orange coat.

During the island’s hot season, Sumatran tigers spend much of their daytime wading in streams to keep cool. Like their mainland counterparts, these cats don’t mind getting wet.

The Louisville Zoo, a non-profit organization and state zoo of Kentucky, is dedicated to bettering the bond between people and our planet by providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for visitors, and leadership in scientific research and conservation education. The Zoo is accredited by the American Association of Museums (AAM) and by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

You can also show your love for the Louisville Zoo by becoming a fan on Facebook.

Learn more: Louisville Zoo’s Home Page

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