FORT WAYNE — The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is saying goodbye to Teddy the tiger but saying hello to Indah and Bugara.
The loss of Teddy is not unexpected, as officials announced in December that female Sumatran tiger Kemala had moved to the Toronto Zoo and that Teddy was expected to move, as well.
Monday, they announced that Teddy left last week for the San Diego Zoo. Because Sumatran tigers are so rare – the World Wildlife Federation estimates there are fewer than 400 left in the wild – the captive population is managed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and its conservation breeding program. Both Kemala and Teddy were moved in hopes of breeding.
“Though we are always sad to see animals leave, knowing that they could breed and increase the population of this species makes it worthwhile,” zoo animal curator Mark Weldon said. About 65 Sumatran tigers live in accredited United States zoos, and four were born in 2012.
But the Sumatran tiger exhibit in Fort Wayne will not be empty for long: sometime this month, Indah and Bugara will arrive from the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, Texas.
“We’re sad. It’s hard,” said Cameron spokeswoman Duane McGregor. “They’re wonderful – just absolutely wonderful and we love them to death.”
Zoo staff often become attached to the animals they care for, but the bond here is especially strong: Indah and Bugara were hand-reared because their mother Maharani rejected them at birth.
“She was a little young and didn’t really know what was going on,” McGregor said. “She has since had a second litter, and she turned out to be a great mom.”
The pair is also exactly what the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo was looking for – a non-breeding pair of tigers that can be exhibited together. The zoo doesn’t have room for a breeding pair, and Kemala and Teddy could not be exhibited at the same time because tigers are solitary and usually don’t get along.
That’s not the case with brother and sister Indah and Bugara.
“One of the exciting features of this is that we’ll be able to exhibit two tigers together, which we haven’t been able to do in the past,” said Cheryl Piropato, the zoo’s education and communications director. “Because they’re brother and sister they get along well, and they’re still on the young side so they have that playful streak.”
How do officials plan to keep the pair from breeding? Easy: Bugara has been neutered. That means Indah could still be bred at some point, but the prospects are remote, because she was hand-raised and is unlikely to get along with a tiger raised by tigers.
And there’s more good news: Though Teddy and Kemala were experts at hiding in the exhibit, Indah and Bugara are more social. And the exhibit has a stream and pond right in front of the viewing area.
“Their exhibit here (in Waco) has a pool – they love the water, they live in it,” McGregor said. “If (Fort Wayne’s exhibit) has any water, they’ll probably be in it.”
Piropato said officials are hopeful the 18-month-olds will be playful. “Hopefully they’ll keep each other busy, and we’ll see some action in there,” she said.
Once they arrive – after a crated drive from Waco – the pair will have a routine 30-day quarantine before being introduced to the Tiger Forest. That will give them plenty of time to get acclimated before the April 20 zoo opening, Piropato said.
Found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, Sumatran tigers are critically endangered frompoaching, loss of prey species and habitat loss from logging and palm oil production.
Sumatran tigers are the smallest of the six living tiger subspecies, and weigh between 200 and 300 pounds as mature adults. Indah weighs 182, and Bugara weighs 235, McGregor said.
“Bugara didn’t get the memo that Sumatrans are supposed to be small,” McGregor said. “He and his father are both very big.”