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SENIOR PRIDE: Aging zoo animals require special care
new slt older-animals-tiger
Sunny, the Bengal tiger at the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo, will celebrate his 18th birtday in September. He is shown here in an undated file photo from 2011. - photo by Tribune file photo

The birth of six arctic fox kits this past month at the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo is part of an ongoing effort to breed animals that have a species survival plan. But in spite of new additions in recent years, there are several geriatric animals in the zoo’s population. They require special care, which is often expensive.
Curator and Zoo Supervisor Sara Hamlin noted that three of the oldest animals are Max the grizzly bear, Boss the lion and Sunny the tiger.
All three have become very dear to the community, Hamilin said.

Max is in his 20s, and has almost no teeth, Hamlin said. “He’s broken them throughout the years and the vet has had to pull several. He suffers from severe arthritis in many joints, which we treat with joint medication and pain meds. The cost of the meds is around $11 a day, which is more than $4,000 a year.”
Boss turns 20 at the beginning of October. He also has broken most of his teeth and suffers from severe arthritis, Hamlin said. “He is also in kidney failure which is typical of an elderly cat. His joint and pain meds cost about $7 a day, which is more than $2,500 a year.”
Sunny, a Bengal tiger, came to the Brit Spaugh Zoo as a cub with his brother Spirit, who died in 2013. Sunny will be 18 in September.
While Sunny has normal pigmentation, Spirit was a white tiger. Like all white tigers in North America he was a mutation produced through inbreeding that causes a number of defects in addition to the rare pigmentation. He periodically received medication for stomach problems and arthritis, and was one of the zoo’s most-medicated animals.
Sunny does not have the recessive genes and has enjoyed better health than his brother. However, there are health issues in his old age.
“He has problems with his throat that cause him to vomit fairly frequently,” Hamilin said. “We suspect that he has ulcers in his esophagus like his brother Spirit had. He is on an antacid and pain meds to manage the arthritis in his hips.
“In 2014 during his routine physical, vets discovered and removed a lump at the base that turned out to be cancerous. The lump has not returned but that does not mean that the cancer is gone. His meds cost about $5 a day which is more than $1,800 a year. We also ship in a pork product – made for zoo cats by the Johnsonville sausage company – just for him to encourage him to eat more,” she added.

“Just like humans, it is hard for elderly animals to maintain muscle condition,” Hamlin continued. “While some of the animals may seem skinny, all of our animals’ weights and body condition are closely monitored by our well trained staff and the zoo veterinarians.”
The older animals are also given more liberties than the younger ones, which means they don’t always present themselves to the public.
“Boss and Sunny are always left with access to their buildings during the day so that they can choose to hang out where they are the most comfortable,” Hamlin said.
“Our old guys are very special to us and we know what they each mean to this community,” Hamlin concluded. “There’s nothing we wouldn’t do to make sure their last days, weeks, years are as healthy and happy as they can be.”

Those aren’t the only aging animals at the zoo. Papa, a prehensile-tailed skink, is 29 years old.
Another senior animal at the zoo who may have all the others beat is Mrs. B., the Bald Eagle, who came to the zoo in 1979, when she was less than a year old.