Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium’s newest Sumatran tiger made his big debut Saturday.
Bali, an 11-year-old transfer from the San Francisco Zoo, lounged around in the 4,950-square-foot Asia waterfall display, unperturbed by curious zoo visitors.
“We had a big mob scene,” zookeeper Andy Goldfarb said. The number of tickets sold on “Tiger Day” was not available Saturday night.
Bali’s brother Java and the resident female tiger Jaya also were on display - in separate exhibits. Zoo officials hope that Bali and Jaya will produce offspring to bolster the Sumatran tiger population, which is listed as critically endangered, with about 70 living in captivity in North America. (About 250 live in the wild.)
Bali first arrived at the zoo mid- September and spent a month in quarantine, which is standard zoo practice. Goldfarb said that Bali handled the transition admirably.
“He’s been a good boy. He gets excited, but he’s never charged the mesh (barrier) at us.”
One quirk: the 294-pound Sumatran shares his brother Java’s affinity for the special treat whipped cream – only the real kind.
“They won’t eat the fake stuff,” Goldfarb said.
On Oct. 14, Bali and Jaya had their first meeting, separated by a mesh metal gate. Although the 6-year-old Jaya seemed apprehensive, Bali was relatively relaxed.
“When he saw Jaya for the first time, he chuffed,” a puffing sound used as greeting among tigers, Goldfarb said. “Java took a year before he chuffed at Jaya.”
Bali and Jaya will continue living in side-by-side enclosures, and zoo staff will monitor the new tiger’s behavior when Jaya goes into estrus, or heat. If Bali shows signs of interest over several of Jaya’s estrus periods, zoo keepers will place the tigers together for breeding.
The odd tiger out, Java will depart at an undetermined date for the Los Angeles Zoo, where he will be partnered up with a female tiger who has littered before.
Meanwhile, visitors get to enjoy the spectacle of three tigers at the zoo.