Tiger World could send pair of cats to Iraq zoo

Tiger World could send pair of cats to Iraq zoo
Monday, July 28, 2008 7:39 AM

By Sarah Nagem


ROCKWELL — The owner of Tiger World thinks one of the tigers she helped raise couldn’t have a more perfect name: Hope.

That’s because Hope, and her male counterpart, Riley, might become the newest attractions at the Baghdad Zoo in Iraq.

“All agree that Hope the tiger could bring hope to the country,” said Lea Jaunakais, owner of the wildlife park.

Hope was born in Rockwell in October 2006, before Jaunakais turned the former Metrolina Wildlife Park into Tiger World. The new attraction opened this summer.

Jaunakais inherited Riley, born in March 2007, when she took over the park later that year, she said. Riley wasn’t born there, but he had been a part of Metrolina.

Tiger World donated Hope and Riley to the Conservators’ Center near Mebane earlier this year.

“They had never met each other,” Mindy Stinner, director of the center, said of the two tigers. They had been on different sides of the park in Rockwell.

But now the pair might be going to Baghdad as part of an effort to repopulate the war-torn city’s zoo.

A U.S. military veterinarian contacted the Conservators’ Center about sending some big cats overseas. According to the center’s Web site, American soldiers killed the tigers in the zoo at the start of the war.

The zoo has since been rebuilt.

Stinner said Hope and Riley are good candidates for a placement in Iraq.

They’re young enough — still teenagers in tiger time, Stinner said.

And they’re adaptable.

“They have very laid-back personalities,” she said.

Hope was born with a minor blood disorder, Jaunakais said.

“We were able to correct it with veterinary care,” she said. “She was able to grow up strong.”

Tiger World still has Riley’s brother, Jackson.

Jaunakais said as much as she loves her animals, she also likes to give them away to other parks.

She has 30 tigers in Rockwell. For her, it’s about conservation.

“I like when I have tigers that can go to other zoos,” she said. “That provides space for me to bring in other tigers.”

The safety factor

Jaunakais said she had some doubts at first when she heard the tigers she helped raise might be heading to an unstable country.

But she said the zoo is safe, and military officials are dedicated to protecting the animals.

“There’s so many people involved,” she said. “It’s a huge global thing.”

The Conservators’ Center wouldn’t send animals into an unsafe situation, Stinner said.

“I mean, these are our children,” she said.

Stinner is convinced the zoo is out of harm’s way.

“At this point, enough has been done at the zoo that this is safe,” she said.

But People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals doesn’t think so. PETA is asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to deny the permit that would allow the transfer of Hope and Riley.

“To send these animals into a war zone — it’s a preposterous and reckless idea,” said Lisa Wathne, a PETA captive exotic animals specialist based in Seattle. “It’s certainly not in the best interest of these animals.”

PETA’s Web site features an online form for anyone opposed to the tigers’ transfer. The forms will be sent to the government, the site says.

Stinner said PETA’s concerns were understandable to an extent.

“Obviously, you give a huge amount of consideration to that,” she said of circumstances in Iraq.

But she said the Baghdad Zoo should be allowed to flourish. Hope and Riley, who each weigh about 250 pounds now, could be part of something special, she said.

She doesn’t know how long it will take to process the paperwork. It could be years before the tigers leave, she said.

“I feel really good about it,” Jaunakais said. “I think it’s a really neat project.”



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