Trick or meat: zoo tigers celebrate Halloween birthday

Amur tigers Mikhail and Nicole turn 14 this week at the Oregon Zoo, and keepers plan to treat the brother-and-sister pair to a Halloween-themed birthday bounty: a meatball-studded cardboard birthday cake, scented papier-mâché party balloons, and some pumpkins stuffed with delicious carnivore snacks. The tigers, wearing orange and black for this (and every) occasion, will receive their goodies at 10:31 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 31.

"Nicky and Mick will probably check everything out first, take in all the sights and smells," keeper Sara Morgan said. "They might bite off some birthday candles and roll the pumpkins around with their paws. Eventually, they'll get around to eating the meat that's hidden inside."

Members of the zoo's volunteer enrichment team created the holiday-themed birthday items, while keepers and zoo veterinarians planned the contents. The enrichment items — all made from nontoxic materials — are designed to encourage the tigers' natural sensory, predatory and exploratory behaviors.

For visitors, the day's festivities will also include a trick-or-treat party for little tykes from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the zoo's Tiger Plaza. PDX Kids Calendar, Tears of Joy puppet theater, Spielwerk Toys and ZooGuide volunteers will present games, prizes, crafts and photo opportunities, all focused on the birthday tigers.

Mikhail and Nicole 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.

The Amur tiger derives its name from the Amur River of southeast Russia, to which this subspecies is native. They are among the most endangered big cats in the world: fewer than 500 are believed to remain in the wild.

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 wild Amur tigers and leopards.