Tiger siblings make debut at Palm Beach Zoo

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Youthful newcomers from San Diego to divide time in habitat with veteran resident.

Daily News Staff Writer
Thursday, December 14, 2006

Mata and Rimba, the two new tigers at the Palm Beach Zoo at Dreher Park, welcomed visitors Wednesday morning with a kitty cat hiss and a modified roar.

The rare Malayan tigers arrived from the San Diego Zoo on Nov. 9, under special escort by Keith Lovett, director of living collections at the Palm Beach Zoo.

With the tigers tucked into special crates without any disorienting sedation, he flew with them on a 777 jetliner from Los Angeles to Miami.

The zoo kept them under wraps, allowing them to get accustomed to their new home before Wednesday’s debut.

Rimba, the more active of the two male siblings, immediately prowled the perimeter of the Tiger Falls exhibit, stopping briefly at the double fence to show his formidable teeth and huff out a warning.

Otherwise, the two brothers went their own way, with the first order of business being a survey of the giant tortoises, black howler monkeys and llamas who live next door to the big cats’ enclosure.

“In general, they’re indifferent to people,” Lovett said.

That is, until one of the black-and-orange striped pair decided to make his feelings known to a zookeeper by letting out a sound that was more powerful than a warning growl but just short of a full-blown roar. A flock of about a dozen ibis feeding nearby took the hint and took flight.

“We never, never go in with them,” Lovett said. “They would immediately kill. The biggest misconception is that they can actually be pets. At heart, they’re still wild animals.”

The Palm Beach Zoo acquired the tigers as part of the Tiger Species Survival Plan administered by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. They are on indefinite loan from San Diego, according to Terry Maple, zoo president and CEO. The long-term plan is to pair them with females for breeding.

“It’s a big opportunity for us,” Maple said. “We want to turn this into one of the best tiger-breeding facilities in the country.

“It’s a great thrill to have these cats here,” Maple added. “I know the public is going to be inspired by them.”

Townee the tiger, one of the zoo’s biggest draws, is sharing his habitat with the two newcomers on an alternating basis. The 19-year-old cat and the two young upstarts have heard each other, smelled each other, and touched nose to nose through a mesh separator. But they have not, and will not, be in the same space at the same time.

Although the tigers will not be on a set schedule, Lovett said he anticipates Mata and Rimba being out and about early in the day, with Townee taking the afternoon public appearance.

According to Lovett, putting the three males together would guarantee injury.

Although cats, big and small, are generally solitary, the two young tigers have never been separated since their birth 17 months ago. As a result, they are comfortable together and only compete as a form of play when they “stalk” and pounce on each other. That might change as the two mature, Lovett said.

“They’re joined at the hip,” said Palm Beacher Judy Schrafft, one of the first zoo guests to view the 250-pound felines. “I expected cubs.”

As with house cats, the big cats sleep 15 to 20 hours a day. They get their exercise by swimming in their waterfall pond and doing some tree climbing.

The zookeepers keep them on their paws by feeding them at random times, and introducing a variety of hormonal scents of natural prey to keep them sharp, Lovett said. They also have access to toys: a large ball, boxes in which to hide and logs to scratch.

Henry Kimelman, former ambassador to Haiti, and his wife, Charlotte, were among the guests Wednesday. The West Palm Beach couple were the major benefactors of the Tiger Falls exhibit.

Although they have not had the time to visit the zoo for several years, they made a special trip to see Mata and Rimba.

“They were just incredible,” he said upon their return from the zoo. “It was an absolute delight.”


Who: Asa Rimba means ‘Hope for the Jungle’; Keemasan Mata means ‘Golden Eye’

Species: Malayan tiger, found in the southern Malay Peninsula

Status: Endangered, with 600 to 800 left in the wild

Born: San Diego Zoo

Age: 17 months

Longevity: About 15 years

Weight: 250 pounds each; will grow to 300 to 350 pounds

Diet: In the wild, pig and deer; in captivity, a specialized meat blend


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