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Zoo mourns death of tiger

by: PHOTO BY MICHAEL DURHAM, COURTESY OF THE OREGON ZOO. - Nicole, a 15 year-old Amur tiger  at the Oregon Zoo, died unexpectdly Monday. Nicole, a 15-year-old female Amur tiger at the Oregon Zoo, died shortly after noon Monday after experiencing what is believed to be a seizure.

According to zoo officials, animal care staff responded immediately but were unable to save her. Veterinary staff continue to gather information to determine what may have caused her death.

Zoo officials and staff are mourning the death of the tiger. The zoo, which is owned and operated by Metro, released the following statement:

“Nicole was adored by everyone who knew her,” said Kim Smith, zoo director. “She was an especially affectionate tiger, but had just enough spunk to let her brother know she was the one in charge. I know many of our visitors had a special connection with her and it’s clear she will be missed.”

Zoo staff cleared visitors from the Tiger Plaza area of the zoo during a particularly busy spring break day to facilitate an emergency response. As a standard procedure, veterinary care staff will conduct a necropsy—the equivalent of an autopsy on animals—to determine the cause of her death.

Nicole and her brother Mikhail were born on Halloween 1998 at the John Ball Zoological Garden in Grand Rapids, Mich. They moved to the Oregon Zoo on Sept. 12, 2000.

As an Amur tiger, Nikki loved cool weather and was especially playful with her brother during snowstorms. Visitors would often see her lounging on the rock next to her swimming pool. She would roll on her back for attention if one of her keepers was nearby.

Nicole enjoyed training sessions and participated in her own care including voluntary blood draws from her tail. She would present her paw in custom-designed crate that allowed keepers to groom her nails and would open her mouth for dental exams.

The median life expectancy for Amur tigers is 16 years for males and 14.3 for females. The pair has remained active and playful, especially during the cooler months.

Wild Amur tigers are among the most endangered big cats on the planet: Fewer than 500 are believed to remain in their home range. The Amur tiger species derives its name from the Amur River, which runs through the region of southeast Russia to which this subspecies is native.

North American and European zoos are participating in coordinated breeding programs to help preserve these critically endangered cats. For more information about Amur tiger conservation and ways to help, visit the Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance’s website. ALTA is an international coalition of organizations working for the conservation of Amur tigers and leopards in the wild.

Metro, the regional government that serves 1.5 million people who live in the 25 cities and three counties of the Portland metropolitan area, provides planning and other services that protect the nature and livability of our region. The zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission to inspire the community to create a better future for wildlife.

Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, western pond turtles and Oregon spotted frogs. Other projects include studies on Asian elephants, polar bears, orangutans and giant pandas. Celebrating 125 years of community support, the zoo relies in part on donations through the Oregon Zoo Foundation to undertake these and many other animal welfare, education and sustainability programs.

The zoo opens at 9 a.m. daily and is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Call TriMet Customer Service, 503-238-RIDE (7433), or visit www.trimet.org for fare and route information.

General zoo admission is $11.50 (ages 12-64), $10 for seniors (65 and up), $8.50 for children (ages 3-11) and free for those 2 and younger; 25 cents of the admission price helps fund regional conservation projects through the zoo’s Future for Wildlife program. Additional information is available at www.oregonzoo.org or by calling 503-226-1561.