Idaho Falls Zoo is proud to announce there’s a new girl in town: an Amur tiger named Eloise.
In April, the zoo’s long-time resident, Basha, passed away due to health complications resulting from old age. Since then, the zoo’s animal care specialists have been working with the Association of Zoo’s and Aquariums’ (AZA) Amur tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP) to identify the best option for not only the zoo but, most importantly, for the tiger that would be moved to Idaho Falls.
“It’s actually a rather complex scientific process,” says Zoo Director David Pennock, “but one that has an important impact of supporting genetic diversity of captive wildlife for future generations.”
An SSP is a cooperatively managed breeding program between facilities accredited by AZA that manages captive threatened or endangered species. There are over 500 different SSPs in AZA and each is managed by a group of wildlife professionals who make recommendations based on genetic lineage of wildlife. As captive populations tend to be smaller, the goal is to enhance genetic diversity as much as possible, and thereby ensure sustainability over time. And, according to an article published in AZA’s August 2021 Connect magazine, SSPs are working.
In working with the Amur tiger SSP, the best match found for the Idaho Falls Zoo was a 4.5-year-old female named Eloise living at Oregon Zoo with her sister. Eloise was born at Milwaukee County Zoo in September 2016. The sisters have now reached the age where they’d be looking to breed in the wild. However, the success of SSPs relies on maintaining that genetic diversity and population management is key, which means not all the animals in AZA accredited zoos will breed. Some facilities have exhibits, like the tiger habitat at Idaho Falls Zoo, which serve as housing for animals that, to ensure that genetic diversity is maintained, aren’t currently participating in the breeding component of an SSP. As such, Eloise will be the only tiger in the exhibit as Idaho Falls Zoo isn’t a tiger breeding facility.
“Tigers are extremely solitary, and for us social humans that can be difficult to understand. We see a tiger by itself, and we assume it must be lonely because we’d be lonely by ourselves,” says General Curator Katie Barry.
Barry states that it’s important not to project human behaviors onto a nonhuman species based on our experiences or preferences, and that it’s about doing what’s best to care for an animal based on that species’ natural history. Because of this, Eloise is ready to move on from life with her sister.
Eloise arrived at the zoo on August 18; however, she won’t be on public exhibit until she’s demonstrated she feels comfortable in her new surroundings. “Think about when you bring a new cat into your home,” says Barry. “Often they’ll hide for a few days until they feel safe in their new environment. Big cats do this as well.”
To allow Eloise time to adjust, the area leading to the tiger exhibit is closed. Stay tuned to our Facebook and Instagram accounts for updates on when Eloise will make her public debut.