*Featured image of Suka by Todd Lahman*
1-year-old Suka is one of my favorite tigers I’ve had the pleasure of knowing in my 25-year career in the Zoo field. He’s a sweet boy who always greets you with chuffs (tiger greetings) when you say hello, and he’s generally very playful and well-adjusted considering he didn’t have a playmate for the first year. These are just a few reasons why I was excited to introduce a companion to Suka.
Suka grew up in the Animal Care Center nursery after his mom decided not to care for him after five days. The veterinarians discovered that he had a severe kidney infection, so he required extensive treatment for the first several weeks of his life. Our nursery keepers did an excellent job providing for his needs, but something he didn’t have was a sibling to interact with because he was born a singleton.
After Suka moved to Tiger Trail he was housed near other tigers so that he could observe tiger behavior. Our hope all along was that we could introduce him to at least one of his siblings born after him. We waited until they were closer in size since they were four months apart in age. The other thing we waited for was Suka’s mom Joanne to start the natural process of pushing her second litter of cubs to be independent and live on their own. We noticed that she was doing this consistently with his brother Nelson. In addition to this, we observed that Nelson liked being near Suka and also had a very easy-going demeanor. Therefore, we decided that Nelson was the best choice to pair with his brother Suka.
In January we started the process of getting them together. We took it slow to make sure they were both ready. Since then we have found that they enjoy each others’ company and are moving towards living together full-time. Suka has done amazingly in his play sessions with his brother. He has had so much fun enticing Nelson to chase him and play with their enrichment. We look forward to seeing how their budding relationship grows.
Autumn Nelson is animal care supervisor at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.