Wouldn’t it be good PR for the Henry Vilas Zoo to indicate on their website that a huge awesome tiger lives there now? I wouldn’t have known about it if my eye hadn’t fallen on a small sidebar in a discarded Wisconsin State Journal. But once I found out, I hustled CJ over there immediately. The new resident is a 9-year-old Amur tiger from Siberia (ancestrally, that is: this one’s actually from South Dakota.) What you immediately notice about the tiger — I mean, besides that it’s huge and awesome— is that it clearly likes padding around in the Wisconsin snow. Why doesn’t Vilas have more cold-weather animals? I’d be happy if I never spent another minute in the little house where the three giraffes spend all winter cooped up, glumly tugging hay out of the hay dispenser and every once in a while licking the walls for a change of pace. I’d assumed the two big ones were the parents of the little ones, but it turns out they’re three unrelated males, which is more depressing still — it’s like the world’s worst bachelor apartment, but even smellier.
CJ, I concede, loves the giraffes. But still — how about some caribou? Or some wolves? Wolves are almost as awesome as tigers!
Some things I learned while writing this post:
- Wall-licking in giraffes is apparently not uncommon in captive specimens, and is thought by some researchers to be cognate to OCD; the website attached to the book Stereotypic Animal Behavior (G. Mason, ed.) has photos and videos of just about every popular zoo animal you can think of, compulsively freaking out.
- The new Amur tiger isn’t the first; for years there was a breeding pair here. The three cubs were named Mendota, Monona, and Wingra; Mendota died during dental surgery in 2002 and the other two cubs moved to Utica. The father, Nicoli, died of old age in 2005, leaving the tiger enclosure empty. In early 2008, another female Amur, Mariette, was living in Vilas. Where she is now, and why she was never exhibited, I’m not sure; it might have had something to do wtih her sister, Tatiana, who escaped and killed a San Francisco zoogoer on Christmas 2007.
- Vilas has lions, giraffes, chimpanzees, and now a tiger, but is missing the other marquee zoo animal; an elephant. I figured out why. Three elephants have lived in Madison, and two of them were named Winkie. The first Winkie, in 1966, pulled a three-year-old girl into his enclosure and killed her. The replacement Winkie arrived later that year, and seriously injured zookeepers in 1977 and 1999. The next year, protests over Vilas’s substandard elephant housing got Winkie moved to an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee, where she killed one of her handlers in 2006.