Not my kitties, for a change. I thought I would write about something zoo related, and this time a happy post. You can read the slightly sad reminder to wear sunscreen for Jacunda here.
So the Sumatran Tiger. We had two in our zoo. I’m not using their names to protect the innocent, the female one was K, and the male one was T. T is a tiger that originally came out from Germany over 20 years ago and they think he was about 6 years old then, but nobody is sure.
He’s an old grump, but his genes are very important. He has very few teeth left. He licks his food to death, well he would if it were live, but it is served to him prepared. He is easily the most bedraggled cat you’ve ever seen. He looks like something the cat dragged in. Ouch, yes it was lame but I could not resist.
K was hand reared at another Australian zoo. She is absolutely stunning.
When you hand-rear an animal, you bring into being a whole range of issues that the general public would not expect. K seriously thinks she is a human. The keeper can give her a good pat, and while this is great in some ways for health checks and that kind of thing, this is not normal tiger behaviour. Tigers are supposed to chase and eat humans, not purr throatily at them while the human gives them a scratch under their chin like any domestic cat.
I was present in the cat tunnel one day when the keeper did his usual health check with her, and just the sight of him approaching would set her purring – the purring sounds like thunder, a very deep rumble. K also would like to be at the front of her enclosure, talking to the humans. You could call her, she would turn up and stare at you and rub her face against the bars, almost begging you to give her a scratch. Her old enclosure had bars and while most people do not like bars, K adored them because it meant she could feel close to her adoring public.
At one point they moved her into an enclosure with a glass front. One visitor was given a huge surprise one day when she actually tried to jump out of the enclosure to be closer to the human. She shattered the inch thick glass, lucky for the human that tinting had been applied which stopped the glass from completely breaking, or human would have made a new tiger friend. K would have loved it. I suspect the human would have freaked out.
So, when you want two kitties to *ahem* mate, what do you do? You put them in enclosures next to each other and if they seem to look like they want to get it on, you introduce them in the cat tunnel (aptly nicknamed the tunnel of love) and see what happens. And this is what they did one day.
T entered the tunnel expecting to see the rear end of a female tiger ready to mate, as this is normal tiger behaviour. What he got was an open claw to the face. He retaliated by grabbing K by the throat and not letting go. Lucky thing he has virtually no teeth left, or that would have been the end of K. To separate them, the keeper had to turn the firehose on them.
The mating attempt was not successful and sadly they came to the conclusion that they will probably never be able to mate K. She doesn’t understand how she’s supposed to act. It was never taught to her, and it probably can’t be now. She may not have the correct instincts to be a mother, as well.
It is a really hard decision for a zoo to have to make when offspring are born and things go wrong – do they hand rear, or do they let nature take its course? With a valuable animal like a Sumatran Tiger, which is so endangered, there is a strong argument for hand-rearing any off spring if the mother cannot cope. There are so few of them left in the world. It’s almost like playing god.
You look her in the eye and tell her she can’t be here, because I sure can’t. I’m glad it’s not my decision to make. Some species handle it much better than others, the cheetah is a great example of a species you can hand rear without doing too much damage to them and how they will live the rest of their life.