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Tiger Forest

Malayan Tiger Species Survival Plan® in Action
Worldwide conservation of this endangered species is happening here!

The nation's rarest tigers can be seen at Naples Zoo. All tigers are among the most endangered creatures sharing our planet and in North America the rarest of tigers are the Malayan tiger with just about 50 cats in the country.

The Species Survival Plan works cooperatively through institutions to match the best individuals for long-term genetic health. To provide space at another accredited zoo with a new breeding facility, Naples Zoo welcomed their two male tigers which were born in March of 2009 through SSP recommendations.

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"We're honored to be able to care for these endangered cats and to be part of their survival into the future," stated Tim Tetzlaff, Director of Conservation for the nationally accredited zoo and historic botanical garden. "Besides the two you see here, there only about 50 others throughout our entire country."

Honors like this fall to zoos accredited by the prestigious Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). "The importance of Naples Zoo belonging to the network of AZA accredited zoos and aquariums cannot be overstated when it comes to the amazing amount of cooperation in the conservation of wildlife," stated an AZA spokesperson. "With their combined personnel, scientific and financial resources, zoos can truly make a difference for species like the Malayan tiger." The rigorous requirements for AZA accreditation insure other zoos that animals will be well cared at by another accredited institution. It also assures the zoo will abide by breeding recommendations made by the AZA Species Survival Plan (SSP) coordinators for the long-term survival of the species.

Malayan tiger at glass with woman

Guest gets up close through
the glass at Tiger Forest

Long-term survival outside the wild is crucial since the threats in Asia are still all too real. There are an estimated 500 Malayan tigers in the wild. And populations are often fragmented throughout mainland Southeast Asia. Add to this the pressures of intense poaching and loss of optimal habitat.

And although there are some signs of hope in changing attitudes and policies in certain range countries, the memories of what can happen when you put all your conservation eggs in one basket are all too recent and real. "The extinction of the Javan tigers in the 1980s was a devastating loss," explains Tetzlaff. "The choice was made by parties involved to preserve them on Java alone without moving any to protected areas outside the wild. But years of habitat loss, poaching, and overhunting of tiger food sources couldn't be overcome fast enough and now they're gone forever. And although I have hope for the Malayan tigers in Asia, everyone wants to learn from the past. Balinese and Caspian tigers also went extinct in the past 50 years. Nobody wants to add another tiger to the list."


With an uncertain future in Asia and so few of these cats in zoos, SSP coordinator Mike Dulaney reinforces the need for cooperative conservation efforts. "In order to retain optimal gene diversity it will be necessary to work with zoos and nature authorities in range countries in order to import future founders to expand a currently small founder base. It is important, therefore, to recruit more institutions which have tiger husbandry experience, such as Naples Zoo, to serve as reservoirs for this genetic material and to be able to bring to the publics' attention the plight of these animals through education." Caring for Malayan tigers at Naples Zoo also fulfills one the goals listed in the AZA's Annual Report of the Tiger SSP of increasing the number of qualified institutions managing these tigers.

And Naples Zoo's conservation efforts don't stop with tigers in the zoo. In the late 1990s, the zoo also began supporting tiger conservation in Asia by providing funds to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) for them to use wherever it was needed most for tigers. "The support that Naples Zoo is providing to WCS is greatly appreciated - unrestricted funds are like liquid gold," stated Dr. Joshua Ginsberg, Director of Asia Programs for WCS. "The funds were used to support our work to develop a National Tiger Action Plan for Cambodia." The initial survey partially funded by the zoo revealed a newly discovered population inhabiting a relatively undisturbed area. With that knowledge, those cats can be protected before that area is destroyed.

And since the zoo is not tax funded, zoo guests can feel good knowing their admission or zoo membership support is making this conservation of tigers possible.

As for what Tetzlaff would like guests to take away from an experience with the Malayan tigers, he states, "I hope people will come to understand the crucial conservation role of zoos but also that it must extends far beyond zoos. We've seen that trying to protect animals in the wild alone can lead to unnecessary extinctions. On the other hand, we can only save a fraction of the millions of species on earth in zoos, so we need to do both. It's my hope that when guests see these incredibly rare cats they will appreciate what an enormous responsibility and opportunity we have as stewards of the earth. And I hope they'll feel a desire to make a difference for the tigers that are struggling to survive half a planet away."

Some may say Tetzlaff and the zoo are already succeeding. As Dr. Howard Quigley
, Director of the Global Carnivore Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society, affirms, "Naples Zoo has made a significant contribution to the conservation of wild tigers over the years. Every click of the turnstile at Naples Zoo has helped secure a foothold for tigers in the wild."

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