Hello zoo friends! I’m Dr. Louise Beyea, the contract veterinarian at the Lake Superior Zoo. My fingers have been getting “itchy” lately, so I’ve decided to put them to work on the computer
keyboard and tell you a few stories about the animals at the zoo, how our zoo fits into the big
picture of zoos and conservation around the world, and answer your questions about animals
and what we do in the veterinary department. This blog will appear on a monthly basis, give or
take, because you never know what’s going to happen when you are a zoo vet!
On to our first topic - tigers, transport and being ticked off.
As many of you know, we euthanized our tiger Lana in late 2019. She was a standout cat
because of her personality and behavior. She loved to play hide and seek at the exhibit
windows, and she was very vocal with her zoo keepers. Her interaction with people was colored
by her upbringing - she was hand raised and had lots of positive interactions with humans from
a very young age. Most tigers in accredited zoos are not hand raised, so they are more wary
when it comes to cooperating with humans.
After Lana’s death, Animal Care Director Dave Thompson and Carnivore Keeper Brittany Behler
contacted the Species Survival Program at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to see if
there were any Amur tigers in need of a home. A female tiger Taj, living at the Potawatomi Zoo
in South Bend, IN, needed solo housing. Taj and three siblings were born at the Columbus Zoo
in Ohio in 2013, and Taj and two of her sisters were moved to Indiana in 2015. Over time, some
conflicts broke out in the group of girls, and sister fights among tigers are not pretty. So Taj
needed new digs.
Taj arrived in Duluth in the late afternoon on Jan. 7, 2020, and she was not a happy camper.
That morning, she had been darted at the Potawatomi Zoo with immobilizing drugs so she could
be put into a large metal transport crate. That crate was then loaded into a large trailer and
strapped tight so it couldn’t move around in the trailer, and Taj made the 570-mile-trip north to
chilly Duluth. The drugs gradually wore off, and Taj was fully awake when the trailer door
opened at the Lake Superior Zoo.
Because the transport trailer was really long, and the zoo grounds were covered with snow and ice, getting the trailer close to the place where the tiger needed to be unloaded was impossible.
That meant Taj would be given royal treatment: she would be carried, in her crate, to her new
Taj was not impressed. She was not at all happy that she was in a crate and beyond annoyed
when she saw a man with a beard come to help move her crate. (Information sent from her
previous zookeepers let us know that she was not fond of men.) She lunged at the man outside,
crashing into the side of her crate, causing it to rattle and move forward several inches. Never
underestimate the power of a ticked-off 300 hundred pound tiger!
Six people groaned in unison as they lifted, dragged, slid and pushed the huge crate containing
the cranky cat across the frozen zoo grounds and down an icy slope to the “tiger kitchen.” Then
it was through the kitchen and into the hallway adjacent to the indoor stalls of the tiger exhibit.
Taj did not act like a grateful princess as she was welcomed to her new boudoir. She continued
to hiss and spit and snarl and lunge and strike and generally do anything to let us know that she
would like to tear us all to bits. She acted exactly the way some house cats do when they are in
their carrying cases when they are taken to the vet. A tiger can make this lashing out behavior
We carefully and securely attached the huge crate to the open door of one of the tiger holding
stalls, all the while being sure that no one could get a finger caught by an angry cat. The
guillotine door on the end of the transport crate was unlocked, then raised, and Taj exploded
into the holding stall, lashing out and growling. She bulleted through the open guillotine door to
a neighboring stall, bounded to the back of the stall, then lunged forward, striking at the front
chainlink barrier, telling us all who was boss and to get away.
The keepers quickly closed the between-stall guillotine door, keeping the tiger away from the
original stall to provide safe working space next to the transport crate.
We quickly removed the crate, made sure the holding stall was locked and secure, and the
carnivore keepers gave Taj a fresh supper of raw meat. Then we left her alone to settle down
and become acquainted with her new home.
Whew. We all took a sigh of relief. Things went well and we responded smoothly on-the-fly to
issues that could not have been anticipated: the distance the crate had to be hand-carried to the
tiger kitchen, the way the tiger would be thrashing about in the crate making it difficult to handle
the huge weight, the lack of rollers under the crate meaning it had to be carried, the construction
of the guillotine door that made us “MacGuyver” a lifting mechanism, and the general I-want-tokill-
you attitude of this new tiger.
Over time, we will learn about Taj and her habits. Already we’ve been impressed with how
quickly her travel stress has dissipated. She drank water shortly after coming out of the crate.
She ate her supper during her first night in her new home. And the next day when she was
allowed outside into her new exhibit, she thoroughly explored the space. The keepers noticed
her rolling in the snow, and even resting on her back in a snow bank, all four feet in the air.
That’s a relaxed tiger, or maybe a tiger that’s grateful to live in an area that has the climate of
her native Siberia!
Over the next several weeks, she’ll be transitioned from the diet she was eating in Indiana, to
the diet we provide our big cats in Duluth. Keepers will also start training Taj so that they will be
able to move her from area to area in her exhibit, get her to show them the inside of her mouth,
and hopefully even stand still against the chainlink mesh so that she can be given injections by
hand instead of needing to be darted.
We all look forward to working with this new tiger so that she can inspire young and old to fall in
love with tigers (even though they don’t love us) and keep them in our changing world.
If you have comments about this blog, or questions you’d like me to address in future blogs,
please email me a message at email@example.com.