Tigers do not make good pets. They are too big to handle and typically end up being abused one way or another by their owners.
One form of abuse many do not stop to consider, says Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge Curator Emily McCormack, is malnutrition.
“A case in point is Sierra,” she said. “We rescued her from Grapevine, Tex., in 1998. She’s 19, which is pretty old for a tiger. She had been raised on a diet of dog food, which has absolutely no nutritional value for a tiger. As a result, she has several health issues. She is our smallest tiger. Because her pelvic area never developed correctly, she can digest but not pass anything but boneless meat, which we then have to supplement with calcium and other vitamins to compensate.”
Last year, Sierra underwent surgery to relieve an intestinal blockage. “Basically she was constipated,” McCormack said. “For one thing, it was shedding season, and tigers shed a lot of hair. Just like a housecat, they get hairballs, and Sierra was unable to process and eliminate it. Her life was in danger, so we operated, despite her age.” She recovered.
Two weeks ago, Sierra underwent a second surgery. Same problem as the first time.
“We tried everything else we could first,” McCormack says. “Have you ever given a tiger an enema? Anyway, that didn’t work, but the surgery went well.”
Although the surgery successfully cleared that blockage, over the next two weeks, the problem built up again.
As a last resort, and following a final (and successful) tiger enema, McCormack came up with a solution. “We decided to shave her,” she said. “No fur, no hairballs. So I got out the shears. Not all the way to the skin – we didn’t want her to get sunburnt! – but now every time a breeze blows, she jumps and looks around and sorta goes ‘Oh!’ From now on, she will have a date with the barber every May.”
For those wishing to see Sierra’s new ‘do, come on out to Turpentine Creek, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., 7 days a week!