It’s come to the point there are more Sumatran tigers in zoos than there are left in the wild.
So when you have a couple, you want to make them as comfortable as possible.
The Kansas City Zoo this week moved its two Sumatrans into a new exhibit that has living grass and bamboo, rocky shelves to climb and a waterfall — all in an enclosure five times as large as their former cage.
The new tiger exhibit opens to the public at 8 a.m. today, and zoo officials hope visitors will be as pleased as the cats seem to be.
“We gave them a swimming pool they can walk around in, they can lie down in and they can actually swim in,” said zoo director Randy Wisthoff. “Sumatrans love water.”
The tigers, which are brothers about 8 years old, explored and marked their new territory on Thursday. It was carved out of a hillside on the “Tiger Trail” north of the polar bear exhibit, and it incorporates a natural limestone outcropping. The peaceful area is surrounded by shade trees and there are benches for visitors. The animals are separated from people by a strong mesh instead of bars.
The exhibit was relatively inexpensive at about $500,000. It was built with funds from a 2004 bond issue approved by voters and with donations from Karen and Wes Dixon, the University of Missouri and the Kempf family in honor of their late 9-year-old son, Mason, whose favorite animal was the tiger. The university’s mascot is the tiger.
The former tiger exhibit was considered adequate for the animals, but grass could not be maintained and the pool was small. It was the exhibit most complained about by visitors, who wondered why such a large zoo could not make more room for its tigers.
Kansas City’s tigers are named Manis and Langka. They came here in 2006 from the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. Sumatrans are the smallest tiger species, but still average eight feet in length. These two weigh 297 and 268 pounds.
There are about 361 Sumatran tigers in zoos worldwide, more than the estimated 300 still in the wild on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. They are endangered, as are all tiger species. The main threats are loss of habitat and poaching.
Kansas City’s tigers did not have an audience of zoo visitors Thursday, but they were being eyed closely by primates in another exhibit on the hillside just above them. There, langur monkeys swung from their branches and made barking sounds of warning.
“They’ve never seen a cat before,” said an amused Wisthoff, “and in their world that’s public enemy number one.”