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Naka the Amur tiger at the Racine Zoo passes at 18
Naka, the Amur tiger – Credit: Racine Zoo

RACINE — Last week Racine lost one of its local treasures. Naka the Amur Tiger passed away after a long, happy life.

Naka was just over one month shy of turning 19 years old, which is a major feat in the big cat world. Amur tigers have an average life span of 10-12 years in the wild, according to a press release from the Racine Zoo.

She was one of the oldest Amur tigers in North American zoos. The Alaska Zoo, in Anchorage, Alaska, is home to Naka’s one surviving brother, Kunali.

During a routine behavioral husbandry training, Racine Zoo keepers and the Zoo veterinarian discovered a mass that, upon testing, was found to be an aggressive form of cancer known as malignant sarcoma. The mass was successfully removed, but Naka was simply unable to recover completely and passed away due to her advanced age and complications from the surgery.

Naka’s contribution

While the humans who have interacted with Naka are grieving the loss of such a majestic creature, the Zoo staff and veterinarians are also thankful for all of the new information learned about geriatric tiger care during her last several years.

“Naka learned so many new behaviors in the last two years to help keepers and vet staff monitor her arthritis and age-related pancreas issues, keepers started calling her ‘Rockstar.’ From nail trims to tail blood draws to hand injections, Naka was eager to learn the next step and would often line herself up in the homemade log chute before the keeper and vet were ready to begin.”

Racine Zoo press release

Naka’s journey began at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in New York on June 7th, 2004. She was sent to the Racine Zoo in 2016 from the Beardsley Zoo in Connecticut by recommendation from the Amur Tiger Species Survival Plan. As an Amur tiger, Naka was one of the most critically endangered species (less than 500 remaining in the wild) and the largest cat species.

Memories of the big cat

Racine Zoo remembers

Naka was not the most trusting of cats but once you were in her inner circle, you knew you were in for life. She was a mighty huntress that would always dispatch her prey. Whether that be the unlucky raccoon that happened to wander into her exhibit or a phonebook that she would tear into the tiniest confetti pieces.

Naka could often be heard responding to the lions’ roar, which the keepers always found fascinating. She will also be remembered for her love of cinnamon, pouncing on boat buoys in the pool, and every time Naka got weighed, she had to bite the weight board just once to show it who was boss. This beautiful striped cat will be missed by the Zoo’s carnivore team and the entire Racine Zoo family.

Racine Zoo press release

Personal memories from Racine County Eye Web Editor

Naka the Amur tiger at the Racine Zoo passes at 18
A birthday celebration to remember at the Racine Zoo. Pictured left to right: Vian May, Miriam Lamoreaux, Rebekah Lamoreaux (the tiger whisperer), and Racine County Eye Web Editor Loren Lamoreaux sporting a Racine Zoo t-shirt. – Credit: Loren Lamoreaux

I was able to spend the day at the Racine Zoo with my family for my birthday through the Winter Picnic in a Snow Globe program.

We enjoyed chili and cornbread, appetizers and drinks, and S’mores in a private, heated dome on the Zoo grounds. We had an animal encounter with Carly the box turtle.

Then we set out to see the other animals on a chilly but sunny February day. My youngest daughter, Rebekah, has always had a special connection with animals. She and I were walking together while I took photos of the different animals.

When we arrived at the tiger enclosure, Naka was laying down behind a structure and we couldn’t see her very well. Rebekah began singing to the tiger and she perked up and came out from behind the structure. She was very receptive to the 15-year-old’s calm and loving tune and positioned herself for a terrific photo op while she was being serenaded. In fact, the prize photo of the day came from that encounter.

Carly the Box Turtle; Naka the Amur tiger at the Racine Zoo passes at 18
Carly, the Box Turtle, is 21 years old and can live up to 100 years. – Credit: Loren Lamoreaux
Naka the Amur tiger at the Racine Zoo passes at 18
The best photo from my birthday at the zoo, provided in part by Rebekah’s loving song and Naka’s response to the serenade. – Credit: Loren Lamoreaux

We cherish the moments like those with wildlife and are grateful to the Racine Zoo for providing such tender, loving and thorough care to all of the animals entrusted to them. Such dedication to the animals can be seen all over the Zoo grounds.

The Racine Zoo

The Racine Zoo is open 365 days a year and offers memberships as well as daily passes for both residents and non-residents. Various educational programs enrich the lives of students from area schools as well. With a plethora of events and educational programs, the Zoo offers something for everyone no matter the season. Visit the Racine Zoo website to learn more about this nonprofit organization.

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