At the Zoo: Tigers have visitors seeing stripes

There are fewer than 500 Sumatran tigers left in the wild.

tiger 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
tiger 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Last week saw the opening of the extensive new tiger exhibit at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, which sprawls over an area of one and a half dunams. The exhibit houses the zoo's newest residents, a pair of male and female tigers named Avigdor and Chana. The big cats are Sumatran tigers, or Panthera tigris sumatra. It is the Latin name "Panthera tigris" that gives us the Hebrew phrase for tiger: "Tigris" in the singular and "tigrisim" in the plural. Although many use namer for tiger, that Hebrew word actually means panther. As their name implies, Jerusalem's new tigers are from a species that originates on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. However, Avigdor arrived from a German zoo and Chana is a native Israeli who was born in the Ramat Gan Safari Park. The tigers are housed in the new exhibit that includes a small stream and a deep pool of water containing fish, where it is hoped the tigers will take an occasional dip and perhaps a snack. Tigers, along with panthers, are unusual cats in that they are strong swimmers and enjoy bathing in pools to stay cool in the summer. So far one-year-old Avigdor and two-year-old Chana have been kept separated in different sections of the exhibit to prevent them from fighting with each other. Despite their young age, both cats already weigh over 120 kilos each and are over two meters long from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail. The tigers are a challenge for keepers because their size, strength and cunning make them among the most dangerous animals. Avigdor has already damaged some pipes and trees in the exhibit just by playing with them. "We have to be very careful," admits Chief Carnivore Keeper Dennis Smith. "Many people have accidents with tigers. You can never know." While Chana is still a little uncomfortable with her new surroundings, Avigdor is settling in and enjoys exploring his new domain. The tigers are fed every couple of days and can eat 10 kilos of beef in one sitting. The feline felicity for food is an endearing habit that all cats, whatever their size, have in common. The mere sight of Smith carrying a green bag full of food is enough to bring Avigdor bounding to the bars and up on his hind feet. Caring for the tigers is a carefully coordinated process of opening and closing cages and hatches; these cats may not hesitate to bite the hand that feeds them. Smith has posted a warning sign to all keepers who deal with the tigers forbidding the use of mobile phones in the tiger enclosure - a distracted keeper might make a careless and subsequently fatal error. The current mild winter is ideal for tiger-spotting as the big cats are neither too chilled to venture outside nor sun-baked into a lethargic stupor. Smith hopes that over the coming weeks, as the tigers become acquainted with each other they will eventually be released to romp together. If things go well the two cats may breed, and with fewer than 500 Sumatran tigers left in the wild, every tiger cub counts.