Thursday, January 5, 2012

Carolina Tiger Rescue: Meet the tigers

Note: For more information on Carolina Tiger Rescue and the Hillsborough resident, Kyra Bucich, who works there, see the Wednesday, Jan. 4, edition of the News of Orange.

Carolina Tiger Rescue has 17 tigers from all different backgrounds—some abandoned pets, others former residents at zoos that had to close down. Meet a few of the organizations majestic cats:


Rajaji, a 15-year-old tiger, came to Carolina Tiger Rescue Dec. 10, 2006. He was rescued from a private owner in Virginia—who kept him in a too-small enclosure with inadequate nutrition—when he was two years old and taken to Triangle Metro Zoo.

Rajaji stayed at the zoo for seven years until the facility closed in 2006. At Triangle Metro, the tiger was held in an enclosure mostly of concrete, so when he came to Carolina Tiger Rescue, he had never seen grass before.

"He stepped into this enclosure; he wasn't sure what it was," Geoff Horsfield said, Carolina Tiger Rescue volunteer coordinator, said. "He ran into trees thinking that they would move for him."

Rajaji is so named because when he came to Pittsboro—named Rajah—Carolina Tiger Rescue already had a Rajah. Rajaji is about seven years older than that tiger, so staff added the ji, which means elder.

At less than 500 pounds, Rajaji is small for tigers, which—as the largest of the big cats—typically run between 500 and 700 pounds. Horsfield said his small size might be a result of poor nutrition or limited space in his early years.

Lucky and Carmelita

Lucky the tiger came into public custody after Detroit police officer in 1998 pulled over a car for a traffic violation and found a 40-pound tiger cub in the back seat. As it's illegal to own exotic pets in Michigan, the Humane Society took custody of the cub and eventually placed him at the Belle Isle Zoo.

The zoo soon after contacted Carolina Tiger Rescue in search of a mate for the tiger, dubbed Lucky. The Pittsboro nonprofit sent female tiger Carmelita.

When the Belle Isle Zoo closed, Carmelita and Lucky went temporarily to the Detroit Zoo until a permanent home could be found. Given the connection to Carolina Tiger Rescue, the zoo asked if the two cats could return to Pittsboro.

Now, both tigers are about 15 years old. Carmelita also has a large tumor on her left elbow.

"It can't be removed because they'd have to remove the entire leg, and tigers gear 85 percent of their weight on their front paws," Horsfield said. "So she wouldn't be able to move around. They monitor it very closely, and they monitor the size of the tumor, too."

Lucky is one of Carolina Tiger Rescue's largest cats at about 550 pounds. He also has a playful streak, enjoying the game stalk the tour guide.

"Occasionally he'll play stalk the tour guide, so if I'm standing here like this he'll stalk me," Horsfield said. "It shows how quiet he is."


Jellybean, born Sept. 30, 1997, stands out as Carolina Tiger Rescue's only white tiger. White tigers, contrary to popular belief, are not a separate subspecies. Instead, the lighter fur is a recessive trait descending from the first white tiger found in the wild in 1951.

"They bred him with an orange tiger," Horsfield said. "They got a litter of orange cubs, so they bred him with one of his daughters and produced at least one white cub. So he's continuously inbred. Every white tiger you'll ever see is a descendent of that one."

As a result, many white tigers have health issues. Jellybean, however, is lucky in that he is a relatively healthy tiger, Horsfield said. Keepers monitor him frequently to make sure he stays that way.

Jellybean, who came from the Nashville zoo, got his name because his pink pads resembled the candy when he was young.


Tex, born Nov. 1, 1996, shares an enclosure with Jellybean and typically doesn't like groups. While Carolina Tiger Rescue tries to avoid putting two males in the same enclosure because of the cat's dominant and territorial instincts, both Jellybean and Tex are neutered. The facility neuters all rescued animals because keepers don't know their genetic background and therefore breeding them would go against the species survival plan.

Before being rescued, Tex belonged to a private owner in Texas who kept him chained to a tree outside. When he was found, the owners had left him without food or water. His owners had also declawed him.

"When they declaw tigers, they take off the front part of his knuckle," Horsfield said. "So he has a lot of hip issues, a lot of shoulder issues. But apparently for a number of days no one came to rescue him, but news organizations would come and take pictures and expose him to the news, so he doesn't like groups."


Nitro and his former enclosure-mate, Apache, came to Carolina Tiger Rescue from a supposed rescue facility in Kansas—which was, in actuality, a junkyard—after a lion also at the junkyard attacked one of the owner's employees.

Nitro and Apache were fed on an inadequate diet and given mouse-infested water dishes.

After the attack, however, authorities removed the animals from the junkyard, and Nitro and Apache came to Carolina Tiger Rescue.

"When he was in quarantine, the keepers noticed he wouldn't look directly at them," Horsfield said. "When they let him out into his enclosure, he'd run into things and had a hard time getting around.

"He's blind."

Keepers aren't sure what exactly the extent of or what caused the blindness, but they set out to adapt Nitro's enclosure for him, putting sand around the edges and around his den box so he could feel when he was close. They used scents to direct him to his water dish and his food. Apache also looked out for his friend, though the bigger tiger has since passed away.

Nitro is only 250 pounds, very small for a tiger. He now manages his enclosure well and enjoys getting treats.

Rajah and Kaela

Rajah and Kaela in January 2005 were found abandoned on a highway near Charlotte at about 6 months old. When tigers are born, they weigh about 2.5 pounds, and by the time they reach 6 months, they weight 100 pounds—which is why people trying to keep them as pets usually surrender them at half-a-year old.

Animal Control picked up the lost tigers and sent them to the North Carolina Zoo for quarantine, where keepers discovered wounds on Kaela consistent with being pushed out of a moving car.

After quarantine, the two cubs were sent to Carolina Tiger Rescue. Keepers believe the two 7-year-old tigers are brother and sister—largely because they were extremely agitated when split up during quarantine—and so staff affectionately refers to them as the cubs.

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