Tigers getting acclimated to new home after move from ‘island’ to ‘temple’

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Tigers getting acclimated to new home after move from ‘island’ to ‘temple’

By Rachel Raskin-Zrihen/Times-Herald staff writer
Posted: 06/20/2009 12:58:56 AM PDT

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The grand opening of Six Flags Discovery Kingdom’s new tiger exhibit and show has been postponed to allow the big cats time to get used to their new home, a park spokeswoman said this week.

The tigers are moving from their old area, called Odin’s Tiger Island, to the park’s new Odin’s Temple of the Tiger.

Delays in the new area’s construction cut into planned acclimation time for the tigers, and most of them aren’t completely comfortable with their new digs yet, park spokeswoman Nancy Chan said.

The outdoor exhibit — which features a 26,000-gallon, glass-enclosed pool, music and special characters interacting with the tigers — was supposed to have opened before the official start of summer. Park officials hope the delay will only be three weeks, but they say that will depend on the tigers.

“Animals in general, from house cats to big cats, are wary of a new environment, and it’s going to take some time,” Chan said. “You have to get them used to new stimuli a little at a time.”

As an example of animals’ need to acclimate to new surroundings, Chan told the story of the famous gorilla, Willie B. the great ape, born in Africa in 1958, who reportedly lived in isolation for his first 31 years.

“He grew up in a cage in Florida and when he moved to a zoo in Atlanta, he saw grass for the first time,” she said. “He wouldn’t set foot on it for months.”

Discovery Kingdom’s 11 tigers likely won’t take that long to adjust, Chan said. In fact, half of them, including the swimming white Bengal tiger named Odin, and the park’s two new cubs, Akasha and Nalin, are already acclimated, she said.

The 9-month-old unrelated cubs were first to accept the new enclosure, Chan said.

“They’re young and are used to being introduced to new things,” she said.

Some of the others, though, are not yet comfortable enough to perform the behaviors they’re asked to, behaviors that help bring the guests to the park, Chan said.

“The tiger trainers, who work with them daily and monitored their behavior during the move, could tell,” she said. “They didn’t want to do the normal things they usually do. Odin, for instance, for about a week, refused to leave the enclosure or do any of the things he usually does.”

Trainers never force the cats to do anything they don’t want to do, she said.

The move to the new facility, which began the first week of June, has otherwise gone smoothly, Chan said.

The new show is expected to follow an official opening of the new exhibit within the next three weeks, Chan said. In the meantime, the cats can be seen “rehearsing” with their trainers, as the revamped tiger show is prepared for audiences.

All this business-as-usual proves to Discovery Kingdom employees that Six Flags’ recent bankruptcy filing won’t impact park operations, Chan said. Further assurances came in the form of an e-mail sent companywide earlier this week by CEO Mark Shapiro.

In it, Shapiro told employees the bankruptcy is a minor blip on the radar.

The firm, which experienced a record year in 2008, “stands ready to take the next necessary step to improve our overall financial health and position the company for continued growth and opportunity,” Shapiro’s message said.

The bankruptcy seeks to allow the firm to divest itself of an “unsustainable $2.4 billion debt load” inherited from “the previous management team,” the message said. “Furthermore, we have over $400 million of debt coming due within the next 12 months that cannot be refinanced in these financial markets.”

Six Flags officials expect to “emerge from these proceedings in the coming months with a significantly improved balance sheet and greater operational and financial flexibility,” Shapiro said.

He assured employees that they and all suppliers, vendors and others, will continue being paid. Discovery Kingdom, in fact, is still hiring, Chan said.

It also is gearing up for the first of its new Summer Concert Series, which kicks off Wednesday with Australian twin pop stars, The Veronicas, as well as The Pretty Reckless, Carny, and Ragnar Rosinkranz, she said.



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