Mik takes a dip: New toy has aging tiger acting like kitten

August 27, 2014 - 2:11pm

As temps near 90, zoo's elderly Amur tiger Mikhail splashes in pool with new cat toy

Keepers this week tried a new cat toy out on the Oregon Zoo's aging Amur tiger Mikhail, and the result was a splashy swim on a warm summer day.

On Tuesday, zookeepers tossed a 3-foot-long green plastic cylinder into the tiger pool from a rooftop overlooking Mikhail's habitat. The 400-pound tiger bounded right in after it, splashing playfully and batting the toy around.

"Mik's definitely getting up there in years... thankfully, he's still active and playful."

—Amy Cutting, curator

"Many people think cats don't like water, but that's not the case with tigers," said animal curator Amy Cutting, who oversees the zoo's tiger area. "They are actually strong swimmers and will go in the water to capture prey or just cool off on a warm day like today."

Cutting said the animal-care staff frequently adds new enrichment items into Mikhail's environment to help keep him active and encourage natural behaviors. This is especially important as he enters his golden years, she said.

"Mik's definitely getting up there in years," Cutting said. "The median life expectancy for male Amur tigers is 16, and that's how old Mik will be in two months, so he's considered elderly. But thankfully, he's still active and playful. Our keepers work hard to make sure he stays healthy and engaged, and this new toy is just another example of that."

Cutting notes that while Mikhail is doing well, his wild counterparts are imperiled by habitat loss and poaching: 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. The Oregon Zoo also supports the Tiger Conservation Campaign, which works to curb poaching of Amur tigers through more effective patrolling and monitoring techniques. In addition, the campaign supports training for Russian veterinarians and research to determine the source of a canine distemper virus that afflicts these endangered cats.