Alaska Zoo euthanizes elderly tiger

Posted: Friday, August 03, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A matriarch of the Alaska Zoo died Thursday.

Martha, a 21-year-old Siberian tiger with velvety black and orange stripes and a white underbelly, was euthanized in her den following months of painful ailments related to her age.

She had suffered failing kidneys, a badly ulcerated eye and increasing episodes of sudden paralysis in her hind limbs, said zoo spokesman Tex Edwards. Zoo officials decided to euthanize Martha in her den Thursday after paralysis plagued her during the week.

''Age 21 for a tiger is like 90 to 100 for us,'' Edwards said. ''Their natural life in the wild is 12 to 15 years, and in captivity they live about 15 to 20 years. So she was quite old.''

Martha came to Alaska from Philadelphia in 1995 along with her two sons, Steve and Al.

Martha was of sound mind and commanded respect until the end, said Thomas ''Smitty'' Smith, Martha's keeper.

''Martha was kind of a grand old dame, if you will,'' Smith said. ''Even with her sons being as big as they are, she continued to rule. She was 100 percent cat.''

Martha lived her zoo life in the spotlight, on exhibit nearly every day. Her sons, territorial by nature, began viciously fighting not long after the trio arrived in Alaska and cannot be shown together. They alternated appearing in the exhibit with their mother and will now have to go on solo, Smith said.

''Males would leave their mother usually at 1 year of age,'' Smith said. ''The boys are now 12, and throughout her time here they never gave her a hard time. And if they gave her a hard time, she'd stand up to them and give them a shot. Considering the boys both weigh 600 pounds, that's something.''

In recent months, Martha's age showed. Her weight dropped, and she frequently toppled over in front of concerned zoo guests.

''We actually had so many people asking us this summer, 'What's wrong with Martha?' that we put up a sign on our 'what's happening' board, talking about how she was getting old and probably wouldn't be with us much longer,'' Edwards said.

There are no immediate plans to replace Martha.

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