Zoo’s tiger cub ‘Billy Ray’ earning his stripes
By Allison M. Heinrichs
Thursday, September 11, 2008
The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s orphaned tiger cub has a name — and a story that could melt any “achy breaky heart.”
The zoo said Wednesday the rare cub will be called Billy Ray — as in Cyrus — at the request of anonymous donors who want to honor a deceased relative who was a fan of the country music singer with the hit song “Achy Breaky Heart.”
The 4-month-old Amur cub, born on Mother’s Day to a tiger who refused to nurse him, yesterday splashed in his drinking water and tried to get the attention of his lead keeper, Kathy Suthard. She and other zoo staff hand-raised the cub, with help from Suthard’s 7-year-old black Labrador retriever, Bella.
“He’s gone through a lot of changes,” Suthard said of the 41.5-pound cub. “From being a tiny helpless little creature to being this independent, strong, personable little man.”
Because the cub needed constant feedings and attention in his first few months, Suthard took him home at night. He and Bella hit it off. “When he’d cry, she’d go to him and tend to him. At night, he’d curl up next to her in her bed.”
Her four cats weren’t as sympathetic to the rambunctious cub.
“They didn’t like it when he snuck up and attacked,” she said. “And they were sure to let him know.”
About two weeks ago, Suthard stopped bringing Billy Ray home because he was becoming too rough with his play and needed to learn to stay at the zoo. Bella’s bed now sits in the cub’s enclosure to comfort him.
Amur tigers are critically endangered, with only about 600 known worldwide, including 190 in accredited zoos.
Billy Ray, who eats about 3 pounds of meat daily, should grow to 11 feet long and 450 pounds. He’ll keep his characteristic markings, which include two white dots at the base of his tail. The cub is on display from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily.
“He has regulars that come to see him and say things like, ‘Oh, he grew so much this week,’ ” Suthard said. “He has his fan club.”