Recently The Toronto Zoo opened the endangered Amur Tiger Exhibit to the public. Amur tigers are the largest of all tigers and it is estimated there are only 500 left in the wild. The Amur Tiger Exhibit, formerly the Giant Panda Experience, is located within the Eurasia Wilds section of the Zoo and is home to two Amur tiger siblings, female “Kira” and male “Vasili”. Kira, which means “mistress or ruler” is six years-old and was born at Calgary Zoo. Vasili, which means “royal or kingly” is brother of Kira and also six years-old. Vasili arrived to Toronto from Assiniboine Park Zoo, but was born at Calgary Zoo. 

Kira can be described as having a more discernible personality, different from Vasili, and Wildlife Care has worked diligently to earn her respect. Kira’s favourite enrichment activity is anything that is placed within a tube. She enjoys throwing the tube around her exhibit to see what Keepers have hidden inside for her! Vasili is best described as a smart tiger with a relaxed personality. He readily engages with daily training sessions with Wildlife Care Staff and thoroughly enjoys playing hard and destroying all of his enrichment items on a regular basis! 

“The Amur tigers have returned to the Zoo after five years and this new exhibit supports the Zoo’s vision in many ways, offering fun interactive education and conservation opportunities. We are certain this exhibit will be a real favourite for our guests,” says Maria Franke, Curator of Mammals, Toronto Zoo. “Being an endangered species, the Zoo is part of the Tiger Conservation Campaign which is headed up by the Tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP). We have donated thousands of dollars to assist in conservation research in the wild and we have set up a Tiger at the Tills promotion so you can donate and help save tigers too.” 

The Amur Tiger Exhibit was formerly home to the four giant pandas who departed for the Calgary Zoo in March 2018. When the original Amur Tiger Exhibit was retrofitted for the arrival of the giant pandas in 2013, the overall design of the habitat was engineered in preparation of the Amur tigers returning in 2018.  

The Toronto Zoo has a long history with Amur tigers with 19 of these cats born at the Zoo since 1974. Amur tigers called the Zoo home continuously from 1974 until 2012, when our last male, Vitali, left for the Riverbanks Zoo in South Carolina in order to make room for the giant pandas. The Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) is the most cold-adapted subspecies of tiger: they are the largest cats in the world, more mass equals more heat, and they have a thick coat of fur. Amur tigers were once found throughout northern China, the Korean peninsula, and eastern Russia, which earned them the familiar name “Siberian tiger.” However, poaching and habitat loss have decimated the wild population. The majority of wild Amur tigers are currently found in the Sikhote-Alin mountains of Russia, around the Amur river. To reflect their current distribution, they are now generally referred to as Amur tigers. 

With the arrival of these two siblings, the Zoo will again be an active participant in the Amur Tiger SSP. Even though neither of our tigers will be breeding in the near future, housing them here will give their home zoos more space to breed their tigers again. And, our new tigers could each potentially be candidates for breeding with non-related individuals in the future. The Amur Tiger SSP, aims to establish and maintain healthy, genetically diverse populations, and overall conservation efforts to save this incredible species. One of the Toronto Zoo’s mandates is to educate visitors on current conservation issues and help preserve the incredible biodiversity on the planet. 

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Photo: Toronto Zoo – Endangered Amur Tigers ‘Kira’ left and ‘Vasili’ right.

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