Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Death of Sumatran Tiger, Baha

UPDATED: 2/11/16, 12:40 pm

On February 10, 2016, the Sacramento Zoo was devastated to announce the death of Baha the Sumatran Tiger after an attempted physical introduction with a male tiger. Read the Zoo’s press release for details.

We have received many follow-up questions and concerns from you that we take seriously. We want to share the facts with you directly.

What preparation was made before the introduction?
Much planning and preparation occurred before the physical introduction. First, was considering the personal histories of both tigers. Both Baha and Mohan had successful histories of being paired with other tigers. Baha’s previous pairings resulted in three litters of cubs.

In December  2015 Mohan and Baha began introductions with contact through mesh. They were able to see each other daily, smell each other, rub up against each other through the mesh and interact through the protection of the mesh. They were both alternated in the same space over time as well, allowing for extreme familiarity with scents. With both tigers showing positive behaviors toward each other, and based on their histories, combined with decades of big cat introduction experience at the Sacramento Zoo, the decision was made to physically introduce them.

During the protected contact period staff met several times to work out a plan for the physical introduction, including equipment needs, staffing, and working through different scenarios. The team also developed protocols to be used during, before and after the introduction. The morning of the introduction all planned preparations were put into place, additional staff were present at the tiger facility and additional staff were on alert at the Zoo.

What indicated that the tigers were ready for a physical introduction?
Staff used decades’ worth of knowledge and experience in introducing large cats as well as Mohan and Baha’s histories and behaviors to make the decision to move forward with the physical introduction.

Positive indications from Baha and Mohan included positive vocalizations from both cats called“chuffing,” smelling each other and visually showing interest in each other. All of these signs were also indicators that Baha was cycling, giving the best chances for a positive outcome. The tigers had lived adjacent to one another since December 2015 and had shown a high degree of positive behavior toward one another through the mesh of the indoor living quarters.

What did you do to try and separate the tigers during the incident?
Part of the planning, prior to the physical introduction included preparing for the need to separate the two tigers. Zoo staff had multiple tools at the ready to distract the tigers and attempt to change their focus if needed. Tools included a fire hose with a powerful water stream,  a regular hose, a CO2 fire extinguisher, a starter pistol with blanks, air horns, flares and shovels. During the short aggressive interaction Mohan was also being called inside, something he is trained to do. After the aggression began a zookeeper rushed onto the roof of the exhibit throwing items down to try and distract Mohan away from Baha. The Sacramento Zoo’s veterinary team was at the ready  onsite. An unsuccessful attempted to tranquilize Mohan occurred during the separation attempt.

Tigers are wild and potentially dangerous animals. At no time do we work with these animals without a mesh protective barrier. It was never an option for staff to go in and intervene in person.

Why was a tranquilizer not used?
Zoo veterinarians with a great deal of experience with a tranquilizer gun used it to assist with the situation. The tranquilizer dart was released as Mohan let go of Baha, and the dart missed the moving target. The whole interaction happened quickly and Mohan was already secured indoors by the time veterinarians had a chance to deploy another dart.

Tranquilizers, even when they hit the target, take several minutes to take effect. In high adrenaline situations such as this, they may even fail to work. Therefore, this was only one of the many methods that staff had available to separate the cats during this situation.

How long was the entire interaction between the tigers?
Mohan and Baha were together about two minutes before the aggression began. From the time the aggression began to the time Mohan was secured inside has been estimated at approximately 6-7 minutes.

What will happen to Mohan?
Mohan will be off-exhibit until further notice while our staff continues to provide excellent care for him, and the remaining collection at the Zoo. We are currently in discussions with the Memphis Zoo and Association of Zoos and Aquariums Sumatran Tiger SSP coordinator to investigate what may be any next housing step for Mohan.

Wasn’t Baha too old to breed?
No. We would not have attempted to introduce the two if Baha was too old. Although she was nearing an age where tigers are no longer reproductive, she was still showing active reproductive behaviors.  The decision was thoughtfully made based on her background, her behavior and health, and with the expertise of the Association of Zoo’s and Aquariums Species Survival coordinator.

Why couldn’t in vitro fertilization be used?
Baha had successfully been introduced to a male and had reproduced naturally in the past. Mohan has also been introduced with a female with no aggression. With their histories, in vitro fertilization is not something that was considered.

In vitro fertilization is not something that is commonly done for Sumatran Tigers. Not only is the success rate not as high as natural reproduction, but it also includes hormone injections and numerous immobilizations.

How often does this happen in zoos/the wild?
This was a rare incident for zoos, including the Sacramento Zoo. The Sacramento Zoo has a history of managing first-time tiger introductions. This is the only time that an incident like this has occurred with large cat species at the Zoo during a first-time physical introduction. The Zoo’s records that date back to 1968 document 18 first- time introductions with big cats and over a hundred subsequent reintroductions with no incident.

Will the Zoo lose accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums?
We immediately shared information about the incident with the AZA, following proper protocol. We have heard from them that there is no indication that the Sacramento Zoo will lose its accreditation. We fully support AZA, AZA accredited facilities and the processes that they have set in place for times like this.

What happens now?
We at the Sacramento Zoo are continually evaluating and learning from experiences. As with any animal introduction, we always review what was done to continually improve and our practices. We have already begun evaluating the incident, as well as our protocols and procedures in efforts to improve animal care at the Sacramento Zoo and at other zoos around the world.  We will continue to work with AZA while evaluating the situation and learning from it.

Sumatran Tiger Information
Sumatran Tigers are critically endangered and found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra off the Malaysian Peninsula.  Fewer than 500 Sumatran Tigers are believed to exist in the wild and approximately 200 live in zoos around the world. They, like other tigers, are mostly solitary coming together only for breeding. After a brief mating period the female leaves the male to raise the cubs on her own. By the age of two the cubs will leave their mother to secure their own territories. Management of tigers in human care based on well-established protocols developed by experienced professionals. The Zoo participates in the Sumatran Tiger Species Survival Plan® (SSP), coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. SSPs are cooperative breeding and conservation programs designed to maintain genetically viable populations of animals in captivity, and to organize zoo and aquarium-based efforts and funding to preserve the species in nature.

Contact Information
The Sacramento Zoo is a nonprofit with a mission to inspire appreciation, respect and a connection with wildlife and nature through education, recreation and conservation. We take the care of our animals and your questions seriously. If you have questions or concerns, please email

ORIGINAL POST: 2/10/16, 3:08 pm

The Sacramento Zoo is saddened to announce that Baha, a 15-year-old female Sumatran Tiger, died on Wednesday morning due to trauma received from a male tiger. The Zoo’s male tiger, Mohan, became aggressive with Baha during a physical introduction on the morning of February 10. Staff, who had been monitoring the introduction from the outside of the enclosure, quickly sprang into action to separate the two tigers. As soon as staff were able to get the male tiger into a secure location veterinarians rushed to care for Baha, but unfortunately she had already passed, veterinary staff tried to resuscitate her but were unsuccessful. Baha has been at the Sacramento Zoo since 2002 and has five living offspring from three previous successful breeding introductions that are at other Association of Zoo and Aquarium (AZA) accredited zoos.

“We are truly devastated at the passing of Baha” said Matt McKim, Animal Collection Director. “Not only was she a wonderful ambassador and a truly attentive mother, she was also a one-of-a-kind tiger that inspired many.”

The tiger introduction was planned through the Species Survival Plan® (SSP), an AZA program that cooperatively manages specific populations with the goal of sustaining healthy, genetically diverse, and demographically varied species well into the future. Since the arrival of the male tiger in December 2015, staff had been monitoring his and Baha’s behavior daily as they had visual contact with each other. Both tigers’ behavior indicated that this was the proper time for physical introductions. Based on knowledge and experience from past successful introductions, staff decided to physically introduce the tigers on Wednesday morning. The Sacramento Zoo has successfully housed and introduced tigers since the 1960’s, including Baha and her previous mate, Castro.

In the past century, four of nine tiger subspecies have gone extinct in their natural habitats.  Fewer than 500 Sumatran Tigers are believed to exist in the wild and approximately 200 live in zoos around the world. The Zoo participates in the Sumatran Tiger Species Survival Plan® (SSP), coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. SSPs are cooperative breeding and conservation programs designed to maintain genetically viable populations of animals in captivity, and to organize zoo and aquarium-based efforts to preserve the species in nature.

Baha the Sumatran Tiger
Baha the Sumatran Tiger

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Science Partnership with a Neighbor

Here at the Zoo we were so excited to welcome some of our neighbors from across the cul-de-sac. Holy Spirit Parish School sent their fifth and sixth graders over in December and January to learn all about birds of prey and their adaptations! These students spent time at school learning about owls and dissecting owl pellets from the local area. We supplemented their learning by introducing them to some of our owls and raptors here at the Zoo. Students got a chance to see these birds up-close and make connections with what they were learning in the classroom. On that first visit, the students also participated in a few activities. They played an active game teaching about competition in the wild as well as a simulation type activity, using different tools as bird beaks to try to grab and “eat” different foods. Through these activities, the Holy Spirit students were able to apply their knowledges and experiences to questions asked about wild birds and their survival.

The main focus of the students’ second visit was a creative activity. They were tasked with creating their own birds. This is harder than it may sound, because their bird’s habitat, coloration, diet, and population status, just to name a few, had to make sense together and in nature. Students came up with fantastic new bird species and had fun naming and illustrating them.

If you would like to help support Holy Spirit Parish School’s hands-on science partnership, join them for the “Streif” movie screening and Q & A at the school on  February 16th at 6 pm. “Streif” follows four elite skiers on their 12-month journey leading up to the most important ride of their career. A live Q & A session with narrator Daron Rahlves will follow the screening. Purchase tickets here and watch the preview on Youtube. Advance tickets are $10, $12 at the door.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Have a Wild Valentine's Day!

How will you spend your Valentine’s Day? Show your loved ones how much you care for them by coming to the Sacramento Zoo’s Valentine’s themed event I Heart Sacramento Zoo! This event is a perfect way to celebrate the love we have for the animals and spend time with the special people in your lives. I Heart Sacramento Zoo is jam-packed with valentine-themed animal enrichments, activity and game tables, and informative animal talks.

When you think of an event that includes so many aspects, you may be surprised to find out that it is completely organized and run by a group of teenagers. That’s right, teenagers! The Sacramento Zoo Teens consists of 70 teens aged 13-19 years old. They begin planning for this big day in November and spend countless hours researching and creating unique animal enrichments, preparing animal talks, and coming up with valentine-themed activities and games. 2016 will be the 5th year of I Heart Sacramento Zoo and we ask that everyone crosses their fingers, toes, and tails for lovely weather!

Visit the Zoo on Sunday, February 14th from 9 am to 4 pm for what is sure to be a paws-itively wild event. Festivities are included with admission.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Poseidon the “Hand Duck”

Among the Sacramento Zoo’s newer Animal Ambassadors in the Interpretive Center are four ducks named Artemis, Ares, Hermes and Poseidon, which are the offspring of the Fulvous Whistling Ducks that can be seen living on the Zoo’s lake.

The Animal Care Department will sometimes artificially incubate waterfowl eggs from our lake exhibits. Once the ducklings are large enough, they will be introduced to our lake residents. Four of the ducklings from the last group of artificially incubated eggs were instead moved to the Interpretive Center to be part of our education programs. Since they would eventually be featured in educational wildlife presentations and up close Animal Encounters with Zoo guests, these ducks required training to be comfortable being handled by trainers. That training process began when they were day’s old. Time spent with these young ducklings enabled them to bond with staff and get used to the handling and training required to be Ambassadors.

Animals all have different personalities and, Poseidon proved to be particularly well-suited to her new role in Education. Compared to the rest of the group, she was by far the most comfortable being handled by the trainers, sometimes preferring the company of her human companions to the other ducks. This extended to a natural behavior of the Fulvous Whistling Duck, which are also called Tree Ducks because they can sometimes be seen perched in tree branches. During her early handling it was found that Poseidon seemed to enjoy standing and balancing on her trainer’s outstretched hand. Because of this she became known as The “Hand Duck” and now makes regular appearances not only in the Wildlife Stage Shows, but also ZooMobile outreach programs.

Zoo Director Kyle Burks with Poseidon the Fulvous Whistling Duck

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Zoo Director Joins Theatre of Lights in Old Sac

The Zoo will be joining the fun this year for this family-friendly holiday tradition in Old Sacramento! The popular holiday show mixes the historic charm of Old Sac with state-of-the-art sound and lighting technology. The highlight of the night is a narrated reading of the famous poem “'Twas the Night Before Christmas”, which is brought to life on the balconies and rooftops of buildings located on K Street between Front and 2nd Streets.

If you visit Old Sacramento’s Theatre of Lights on the evening of December 27th, you may spot a familiar face during the performance - Kyle Burks, the Zoo’s CEO/Executive Director, will be playing the special guest role of Papa! Zoo staff will also be handing out animal ears to wear - be sure to stop by and grab a pair!

If you cannot make it to the special Zoo Night, you can catch a performance any Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday through the end of the month at 6:15 and 7:45 pm. Visit Macy's Theatre of Lights page to learn more.

Photo courtesy of Macy's Theatre of Lights

Monday, December 21, 2015

Making a difference in Uganda through the New Nature Foundation

New Nature Foundation (NNF), with assistance from the Sacramento Zoo and the Greater Sacramento Chapter of the American Association of Zookeepers, has been addressing the fuel wood crises in Uganda and helping protect native habitats for animals since 2006.

Most Ugandans use traditional three-stone wood-burning fires to cook their food and heat their water. This style of cooking creates air pollution and health risks to the people in the home. In addition, this unsustainable system will lead to a depletion of the forests.  The trees near many villages are almost gone, thus the poaching of trees inside protected areas and parks is now ongoing. NNF is assisting with this problem in two ways. First, by planting native firewood crops as a border around existing farms, the needs of a family can be addressed in a sustainable fashion. Second, NNF is helping to create better home stoves that saves over 3 million pounds of wood each year! People, wildlife, and the forests all benefit from efficient cooking.

Along with the stove campaign and planting trees, NNF has an extensive education campaign that empowers citizens by creating recreational opportunities that improve the people-park relationship, benefiting future generations of animals and humans alike. The campaign includes four community Science Centers, weekly outdoor video shows, training workshops and conservation competitions, and engages nearly 30,000 Ugandans each year. These programs help build excitement and a can-do attitude in our community partners.

The New Nature Foundation is one of the many conservation organizations that the Sacramento Zoo supports. To learn more about the Zoo’s conservation programs locally and globally visit the Zoo’s website . Visit the New Nature Foundation website for more photos and information them and the work that they are doing.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Welcome Mohan the Tiger!

We are excited to announce the Zoo’s newest resident, Mohan, a 11-year-old male Sumatran Tiger. Mohan came from the Memphis Zoo to the Sacramento Zoo as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Sumatran Tiger Species Survival Plan® (SSP) Program. The SSP coordinates all of the breeding efforts for tigers in North American zoos and works with conservation groups in the wild to increase awareness of the problems that face this big cat.

Photo of Mohan Courtesy of the Memphis Zoo
Mohan’s move was the result of months of planning and coordination. The plans were set into action on November 18th when a Sacramento Zoo zookeeper and veterinarian flew to Memphis to ensure a successful transfer and transition for the tiger. Upon arrival they hit the ground running.  While in Memphis our Zoo staff worked closely with the Memphis Zoo staff to learn first-hand everything they can about the history, care, training and other nuances related to the Tiger Mohan. All details for the following day’s shipment are finalized at this time.

Mohan Receiving a check-up at the Memphis Zoo
The morning of November 19th veterinarians at the Memphis Zoo did a quick exam to ensure Mohan was ready for his journey. After receiving the green light, Mohan was placed in a transport crate and was taken to the airport where he was loaded onto a FedEx cargo plane and then continually monitored by his escorts, the Sacramento Zoo’s veterinarian and zookeeper. During shipments such as this, the Sacramento Zoo staff are able to travel in the cargo plane with the animal, ensuring its health and well-being at all times during the shipment.

Mohan in his Crate after his Flight Landed
After an easy flight, he landed safely and was settled in safe and healthy at the Zoo later that evening. Staff members at the Memphis Zoo were immediately notified as to the successful completion of the transfer.

Currently, Mohan is completing his 30-day quarantine in the Murray E. Fowler Veterinary Hospital where he is acclimating to his new keepers and being monitored for any illness. Guests will begin seeing him on exhibit in the coming weeks.

Mohan and Baha, the Zoo’s resident female Sumatran Tiger, will not be on exhibit together until they have undergone an extensive “meet and greet” process. Before the two tigers can begin to live comfortably together, zookeepers will introduce them first to the smell and sight of one another. After Mohan and Baha are comfortable being side by side, keepers will physically introduce them together and they will begin sharing the same space.

Photo courtesy of Melanie Lewis, Cat Country Keeper at the Memphis Zoo
Sumatran Tigers are critically endangered and found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Fewer than 500 Sumatran Tigers are believed to exist in the wild and approximately 200 live in zoos around the world. Along with participating the Sumatran Tiger SSP’s breeding and conservation program, the Sacramento Zoo also supports more than two dozen conservation programs around the globe, including Sumatran Tiger Conservation.