Mesmerizing and gorgeous, but also endangered, our tigers are always a pleasure to watch. Over the years, we have had over 100 Bengal, Siberian, Sumatran, and Malayan tigers born at our two facilities. The San Diego Zoo is currently home to Malayan tiger Connor. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is home to six Sumatran tigers: adult male Teddy, adult female Delta and brothers Conrad and Thomas, born in 2012, and sisters Joanne and Majel, born in 2010.
A famous white tiger
Our most famous tiger was Blanca, the white Bengal tiger who came to the San Diego Zoo after being confiscated as a cub by the U. S. Customs Service—she was traveling from San Diego to Mexico in the back seat of someone's car! While her owners explained to officials that the cat was returning to a private zoo in Mexico, young Blanca (she was under three months old at the time) was romping in the back seat and peering out the car's windows. Because special permits are required to transport tigers, the tiger cub was confiscated. However, with no facilities to keep a tiger, the Customs Service temporarily relocated the cub to the San Diego Zoo's own Children's Zoo, where she soon became a favorite of guests and employees.
In March 1992, she officially became part of the Zoo family and appeared in the Zoo's Animal Chit-Chat shows. In 1996, she moved to the Safari Park, where she continued to thrive and delight guests with her unusual beauty until her passing in 2012.
Tigers at the Zoo and Safari Park receive a hearty meat-based diet, imaginative enrichment items, and basic behavioral training for husbandry. For example, our tigers are taught to “rise up” on their hind legs to allow staff to inspect their bellies and paws, they learn to open their mouths so we can ensure their teeth are healthy, and they accept blood draws from the base of their tail for laboratory analysis. All this minimizes stress on the animals in the long run, since they do not have to be tranquilized for a trip to the veterinary hospital for every health issue.
Scent is also important to tigers, and it is sometimes used as enrichment, keeping the cats engaged in their environment. Scents include donated perfumes and different herbs and spices, which are dabbed onto burlap sacks or sprinkled in their bedrooms, and the cats joyfully roll around on the scents for hours.
A new exhibit in the works
The Safari Park is planning to build an exciting new state-of-the-art tiger habitat that will feature forest clearings, tiger viewing areas, and a pool for the cool cats. The new area will also play an integral role in the conservation of Sumatran tigers. We have had 23 Sumatran tigers born at the Park. Scientists estimate this tiger subspecies could be extinct in their native Sumatra by 2020 unless drastic measures are taken to protect and preserve them. The new exhibit will open in May 2014.
There are six subspecies of tiger living today, all highly endangered due to human hunting and encroachment on their forest habitat. To people of many cultures, the tiger is a symbol of strength and courage. But if tigers are so admired, why are they endangered? For many years, tigers have been hunted for their fur and other body parts, some of which are used in native medicines. In some cultures, people hunt tigers for sport or to demonstrate their own bravery. Tiger hunting continues today because the body parts can be sold for a lot of money. Several traditional medicines use tiger parts as a cure for all kinds of illnesses, from pimples to toothaches. These “cures” have never been proven to be effective.
Tigers also suffer from habitat loss. When people move into areas where tigers live, tigers are forced into smaller and smaller areas where there may not be enough food for the big cats to survive.
Help for tigers
Tiger researchers estimate that there are no more than 5,000 tigers in the world. But there is a lot of work being done to make sure that tigers will survive. In the early 1970s, India began passing laws against killing tigers. Since then, other countries with wild tigers have passed similar laws. Many countries around the world, including the US, have passed laws to stop the sale of products made from tiger parts. International projects exist that help protect wild tiger habitat. Zoos help tigers through breeding programs and by teaching people around the world about these cats.