Two white Bengal tigers visit Nashville Zoo

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Two white Bengal tigers visit Nashville Zoo

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By Natalia Mielczarek

Friday the 13th turned out lucky for the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere.

It became a temporary home to Benwa and Taboo, white Bengal tiger cubs visiting from a private sanctuary in Florida.

The 3-month-old sisters spent their first day on display rolling around in hay, stripping bark from trees in their enclosure, chasing each other and napping. They were the biggest visitor attraction of the day.

Nathan Sanders, 11; brother Aaron, 14; and mom Cecilia Sheffer drove from Spring Hill just to see the furry duo.

“They’re majestic creatures, but they’re also feisty,” said Nathan, who is home-schooled and used the zoo trip as a lesson.

“I’m an animal studier,” he said, staring at the cubs. “Animals are an important part of life. Without them, we couldn’t even survive.”

The tiger cubs are the latest addition to the zoo, which welcomed eight zebras last week and anticipates putting two anteaters in a new exhibit next week. In the past year, the facility has also added a collection of several kinds of frogs and toads, an African crested porcupine and an Eurasian lynx, zoo officials said.

The zoo already has two adult female Bengal tigers on exhibit just a few feet away from the cubs. The adult and young tigers aren’t related.

Training is purpose

Carnivore keeper Jennifer Jackson said the little sisters, who weigh 30 pounds each, will at least double their weight in about a month. Once they outgrow their enclosure, they will return home to Florida, Jackson said. An adult female Bengal tiger can reach 250 pounds, she said, with a male weighing in at 400 pounds.

“They’re here mainly for training purposes, so we can learn how to take care of the cubs,” the keeper said.

“A lot of the training is target training, so we can learn how to focus them on a target and vaccinate them or draw blood without anesthetizing them. It’s less stressful for them.”

No matter how cute Benwa and Taboo may look, Jackson warned, they’re not pets and are fenced in for a reason.

“They’re coming into their own, developing their skills like they would in the wild, like stalking,” she said.

“When I went inside today, they tried to grab me and jump on me. You don’t want to sit down. I probably won’t go inside in about a month. And with our adult tigers, you couldn’t pay me enough to go in.”

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