By Rachel Davis
Zoo Atlanta welcomes a new ambassador for one of Earth’s rarest big cat species. Sparky, a 13-year-old male Sumatran tiger, arrived in Atlanta in early March and has begun exploring his new home in the Zoo’s Complex Carnivores habitat. He has been recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Tiger Species Survival Plan® (SSP) to pair with Chelsea, the Zoo’s female Sumatran tiger.
“The Sumatran tiger is a species with a pressing need for immediate conservation efforts, with a wild population of only a few hundred individuals,” said Hayley Murphy, DVM, Vice President of Animal Divisions. “We’re very excited to have Sparky join the Zoo Atlanta family. The conservation message of Sumatran tigers, and of all of the species in our care, helps us understand that we all have the power to make personal decisions that help save wildlife, whether here in Atlanta or across the globe in Indonesia.”
Born April 22, 2004, at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in Indiana, Sparky is on loan from the Louisville Zoo and arrives most recently from Smithsonian’s National Zoo. The Tiger SSP, one of many SSP programs in which Zoo Atlanta is an active contributor, seeks to maintain healthy, genetically diverse, and self-sustaining tiger populations within accredited North American zoos and is just one example of the many collaborative efforts by AZA zoos to preserve animal populations for future generations.
The future is uncertain for wild Sumatran tigers without targeted conservation efforts. Listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), they are believed to number fewer than 400 in the wild on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Sumatran tigers face serious pressures from habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, particularly as a result of deforestation for palm oil plantations and illegal poaching for their skins and bones, which are believed by some cultures to have medicinal value. Tigers are also killed by humans when they approach local villages and prey on livestock.
All six remaining tiger subspecies are endangered or critically endangered, and three subspecies are recent extinctions. The Bali tiger, Caspian tiger, and Javan tiger all went extinct in the 20th century.
Zoo Atlanta supports the Tiger Conservation Campaign, one of the three projects benefiting from the 2017/2018 program year of the Zoo’s Quarters for Conservation initiative, which contributes 25 cents of every general admission ticket to programs for wildlife. The project works to prevent human-tiger conflict in Sumatra by erecting tiger-proof livestock pens in villages, helping local veterinarians respond with assistance for wild tigers caught in poachers’ snares, and promoting outreach and awareness. Zoo Atlanta’s Mabel Dorn Reeder Conservation Endowment Fund has supported efforts to study tiger populations to maintain preservation of a wildlife corridor in Sumatra’s Aceh Forest. The Zoo is one of only a small number of zoos to pursue and attain membership in the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil™ (RSPO). Zoo Atlanta and many other AZA zoos are vocal advocates for encouraging the use of only sustainably-produced palm oil, the unsustainable harvest of which threatens the survival of Sumatran tigers, Sumatran orangutans and many other species.
Sumatran tigers are solitary in the wild, with males and females spending time together only during breeding. While Sparky and Chelsea have seen one another in the Zoo’s behind-the-scenes tiger complex, it will be some weeks before the two have a closer introduction.
Both Sparky and Chelsea, 14, have had previous offspring with other mates. Chelsea gave birth to two cubs, Sohni and Sanjiv, in 2011. Sohni and Sanjiv now live at other zoos.
As Sparky is still becoming acclimated to his new surroundings, there is not yet a guarantee of seeing him. Visit www.zooatlanta.org to learn more or to plan your visit. Visit www.zooatlanta.org/conservation for more information on the Zoo’s conservation projects and partnerships for Sumatran tigers and other species around the world.