Alaska Zoo gets two tigers

Posted: Friday, June 20, 2008

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Zoo on Thursday welcomed two new Amur tigers.

Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News

The Amur tigers - more commonly known as Siberian tigers - were born at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, N.Y., and recently turned 4 years old. They weigh about 450 pounds each and are still growing.

The tigers arrived at the zoo after being taken by truck from Syracuse to Newark, N.J., and then flown to Anchorage.

The tigers, named Korol and Kunali, are getting accustomed to their new home, Alaska Zoo Director Pat Lampi said. The plan is to introduce them to the public on Saturday, the summer solstice when the zoo will be open until midnight.

In the meantime, the tigers will spend the next two days in their interior dens.

"They are beautiful," Lampi said. "I just know these guys will thrive here."

Siberian tigers are the largest of the big cats, weighing in at between 400 and 500 pounds, and living for between 15 and 20 years. They are critically endangered. There are fewer than 300 in the wild.

While zoo staff were elated, the tigers, particularly Korol, weren't so convinced that Alaska was the place to be. Korol's snarls and roars reverberated against the walls of his den several hours after his arrival.

Korol was perhaps feeling a bit of jet lag, Lampi said. The tigers were given a sedative to load them into their crates at the Syracuse zoo. Once on the truck and headed to the airport, they were given a shot to reverse the sedative's affect.

"That's a grumpy tiger," Lampi said, as Korol protested the presence of reporters and television crews outside his steel-barred den.

The tigers' new home is a half-acre exhibit that comes with a hill, a wooded area and pools.

Lampi said the Alaska climate is ideal for the big cats. It is similar to where they live in the long coastal area of the Russian Far East. Russia's tigers and a handful in neighboring China, and perhaps some in North Korea, are called Amur tigers because they live in the Amur River Basin.

The zoo has had Amur tigers before: Martha, and Al and Steve, her offspring. Al was euthanized in December because of failing health at age 18 and his twin brother, Steve, died last August. Martha died at age 21 in 2001.

Like their predecessors, Korol and Kunali were part of the Amur tiger Species Survival Plan.

It is unlikely, however, that the two big cats will be bred because their genetics are already well-represented in the captive population, Lampi said.

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