Endangered Sumatran tiger makes public debut at Point Defiance Zoo

TACOMA, Wash. — Visitors at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium can meet a rare Sumatran tiger starting Friday.

The 11-year-old male named Sanjiv — pronounced sun-jeev — will make his public debut at 9:30 a.m.

Sanjiv is one of only about 72 Sumatran tigers living in accredited North American zoos.

Guests can see the tiger in the Asian Forest Sanctuary on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and talk with the keepers who care for him during daily keeper chats.

Zoo officials say black-market poaching, conflicts with humans, loss of prey, and habitat loss are among the pressures the critically endangered tigers face in the wild.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature considers Sumatran tigers to be critically endangered, the most severe classification for species facing extinction.

Only 400 to 500 tigers remain on their native Indonesian island of Sumatra.

The 286-pound tiger is settling in at his new home in Tacoma and getting to know his care team, according to Assistant Curator Erin Pritchard.

“He is a very social and expressive tiger who loves to interact with his keepers and our two female tigers,” said Pritchard. “He’s always chuffing and vocalizing, and he’s fascinated with the swinging gibbons and other species that share his Asian Forest Sanctuary home.”

The tiger arrived in Tacoma in December from the Topeka Zoo and Conservation in Kansas.

The plan is for Sanjiv to breed with the zoo’s two female tigers. He fathered four cubs in 2019, but pairing two tigers takes a lot of work, according to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium General Curator Dr. Karen Goodrowe.

“It’s a long process of introduction because we want to make sure we can read their behaviors, and they’re comfortable with one another,” said Goodrowe.