Jungle Cat World has been around long enough to know how cruel it is to inbreed tigers just to get the “white gene.”
Orono Jungle Cat World welcomes new tiger
Zoo set to make many more additions
ORONO — Orono’s Jungle Cat World Wildlife Park just added royalty to the family.
The zoo’s newest addition is a 10-week-old Bengal tiger named Tahj, meaning prince.
“We love Tahj a lot,” head zookeeper Jen Bird said. “He’s just the sweetest thing. He’ll run up to you and just hug your leg. He’s really cute. I can just roll him over and give him a little belly rub and he kisses me. Really, he’s just a very sweet tiger.”
Tahj is 15 pounds of pure spunk. When Clarington This Week paid him a visit, the cub “chuffed” an excited greeting and proceeded to bound around without pause, playfully stalking peacocks, pawing at puddles and swatting brush, while stealing our reporter’s bag, perching atop our videographer’s camera case and giving out kisses. When it was time to go back inside, the cub sent Ms. Bird on a comical pursuit, teasing her as she chased him in circles through some brush.
“He’s a little saucy, he’s a good boy though,” Ms. Bird said with a laugh. “He’s different from the other (tigers at the zoo) that’s for sure. They’re all different, but he’s really different. He’s great.”
She said Tahj has an endearing quirk.
“He gallops,” she said with a smile. “He goes boing, boing, boing when he’s really excited.”
Another of Tahj’s features is his lineage.
“His mom was a white tiger, so he has white tiger gene in him. He could produce a white tiger when he mates,” Ms. Bird explained. “We’re playing with the idea of getting a mate for him.”
Tahj was born in Niagara Falls at Safari Niagara. He came to Orono in exchange for Sasha, a one-year-old Amir tiger that will become part of Safari Niagara’s breeding program.
At maturity, Tahj will weigh about 500 pounds.
Bengal tigers are found in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Myanmar and Nepal. Coming from a mild climate, Tahj needs to get used to winter weather.
“He’s spending a couple hours a day outside,” Ms. Bird explained. “We have to get him used to it slowly.”
Tahj is spending time getting used to people as well.
“Basic socialization is key,” Ms. Bird said. “Just letting them meet and greet with as many people as possible, so they’re not fearful. It’s important that they’re happy to see people, because they’re going to see people every day for the rest of their lives. It’s really super important that he’s comfortable in his surroundings.”
Tahj currently lives inside with staff. One-on-one play time with the cub is available now through the zoo’s Behind the Scenes program — for a $100 taxable donation per person to the Endangered Species Fund of Canada, groups up to four can choose three animals to interact with ‘behind the scenes’ for 45 minutes. Admission to the zoo is included.
When he reaches about three months, Tahj will move into his own enclosure and be put on display for everyone to enjoy.
Tahj isn’t the only exciting new addition at the zoo.
Mates were recently acquired for two of the zoo’s animals. Vaadim, an Amir leopard, came from Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg as a mate for Ursula, who was born and raised in Orono. The animals are living together in an enclosure and will hopefully breed as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Program.
“Amir leopards are the most critically endangered big cat species in the world,” Ms. Bird explained. “There’s around 10 to 15 left in the wild, and about 240 in captivity. Unfortunately, their numbers aren’t too good in captivity. To ensure species survival you need thousands, not hundreds. It’s a really sad situation, but we’re hoping to help.
“We’re hoping to have a really good breeding program here with them,” she continued. “We used to be one of the No. 1 breeders of Amir leopards, we’ve had a lot of cubs born here.”
The zoo also acquired a lioness named Nairobi to pair with its lion Simba, and moved the couple into a huge enclosure.
“We’re pretty excited about it, and so is Simba,” Ms. Bird said. “We’re hoping they’ll be the beginning of our pride. We have ample space for lions back here.”
Simba is a year and a half old and Nairobi is two. Lions reach sexual maturity around three.
“That’s the earliest we would expect them to reproduce,” Ms. Bird said. “They like each other I think. They snuggle in their den together. I don’t think love is quite there yet, but it’s brewing. They would be miffed if they weren’t together, so yeah, they don’t know it yet, but they’re in love. Simba’s mane has just exploded since she moved in, he’s becoming a man.”
As if that’s not enough excitement, zoo staff also paired two Arctic wolves in an enclosure, Bianca and Csaba, that will hopefully mate.
Ms. Bird said the new additions and pairings have lent the zoo a new liveliness.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “Things are changing, and we have to learn to adapt, just like they do.”
Jungle Cat World Wildlife Park is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. year-round, every day except Christmas.
In 1984 the head of the Bronx Zoo reported to the American Zoological Association and to Geo Magazine that “White tigers are freaks. It’s not the role of zoos to display two headed calves and white tigers.” Finally in July 2011 the AZA adopted a formal policy prohibiting the breeding of white tigers and white lions.”