This morning the San Francisco Fire Department got a call to help rescue a cat–a really big cat.
Battalion Chiefs James Blake and Lorrie Kalos and their crew arrived at the San Francisco Zoo at 8:30 a.m., after zoo officials decided their geriatric Siberian tiger was spending too much time alone in his moat.
A little more than two hours later, a drugged and subdued Tony the tiger was pulled from the moat and temporarily moved to the Lion House, where he will remain until the zoo figures out how to “geriatrify” the outdoor exhibit.
San Francisco Zoo keepers waited four days before requesting the assistance of the fire department to fetch Tony, who is 18 years old–the equivalent of 90 human years, according to a news release issued by the zoo.
While zoo spokeswoman Lora LaMarca said it’s not unusual for Tony to crawl down into his moat, too many days had passed since he took the keeper steps down into the moat on Thursday afternoon.
While Tony was keeping himself entertained in the moat, zoo officials were concerned that accumulating water mingling with food would attract flies and pose a health risk.
In order to move the 360-pound tiger, a crew of firefighters and zoo keepers first anesthetized the big cat. Once the medication set in, crews moved Tony onto a board and lifted him out with a combination of people-power and the mechanical advantages of a pulley system.
“It’s not unusual for Tony to go into the moat,” mammal curator Ingrid Russell-White said in a prepared statement. “It’s one of his favorite places.”
He was playing, drinking and eating and Russell-White said “he just was not motivated to climb the steps or rocks to return to his exhibit.”
“Tony is a big baby and he lets us know when he doesn’t feel well by not eating and becoming listless,” chief veterinarian Jacqueline Jencek said in a prepared statement.
LaMarca said Tony, at the ripe old age of 18 years, is showing some signs of senility. Siberian tigers have a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years in the wild and 14 to 20 years in captivity.
Tony’s most recent annual veterinary review came back normal for a tiger his age.
Three years ago, Tony was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, and to relieve his symptoms, keepers lace his food with a powerful steroid, prednisone. The drug is commonly used to treat the disease in tigers and humans alike because of its efficacy in reducing inflammation in the body.
Keepers deliver the doses of prednisone by mixing it into Tony’s “meatballs” and dropping the medicated meat into his moat.
“We spoil him a little bit, because he’s a very picky, finicky eater,” LaMarca said.
Although the zoo has two other tigers–Leanne, a 7-year-old female Sumatran tiger, and Padang, the wizened elder of the group at 21 years old–Tony spends most of his days alone.
Tony came to the San Francisco Zoo in 1993 and LaMarca said he’s just leisurely living out his days. She said there might have been a behavioral issue, rather than a medical one, for Tony’s stubbornness.
“He opted not to crawl out of the moat,” she said.
“You know what they say about cats; they’ve got minds of their own.”