The unexpected death of a Siberian tiger at the Assiniboine Park Zoo has staff worried an infectious disease might spread throughout other animals that call the zoo home.
"It is a concern," said Dr. Chris Enright, head of veterinary services for the Assiniboine Park Zoo. "At this point we're going to be prudent and start taking some steps to keep a close eye on other species in the area of the tigers and also in other species in the cat family that could be susceptible to some of the same diseases."
Zoo staff began paying close attention to Reka, who turned one on July 29, when they noticed on Sunday he did not seem to have much energy. Reka also showed a reduced appetite and discharge dripped from his eyes.
When zoo staff took him in for a full examination Monday morning, the tiger stopped breathing after being tranquilized and went into cardiac arrest before dying.
"It's certainly unusual and unexpected," Enright said. "For a young, healthy animal to be normal on Saturday, Sunday to be off, and then to pass on while we were doing diagnostics and the treatment in order to figure out what was going on -- we have some preliminary indications that it was an infection."
Since the tiger died around at 9:55 a.m. on Monday, other tigers at the Assiniboine Park Zoo have been put under quarantine, but are still on exhibit for the public.
Enright said the tiger's passing is particularly difficult for the staff, who worked with Reka "on a daily basis."
"He was a personality, alright," he said, noting the Siberian beauty also helped raise awareness about "critically endangered" species such as themselves. "We certainly want to promote conservation of wild spaces in Russia and North Korea and parts of their native range, so Reka helped with that too just by engaging with the public and getting them to care about tigers."
Aside from Reka, there are three other Siberian Tigers, also known as Amur Tigers, in the Assiniboine Park Zoo: Baikal, Sarma and Reka's mother, Kendra.
Enright explained the tiger's death will cause an "upset," particularly with his mother.
"It's before she would normally see him off in the world, as it were" he said, before explaining Siberian tigers typically stay with their mothers for between 1 1/2 to two years in the wild.
As far as moving forward, Enright said the first priority is figuring out the cause of the tiger's death. He is anticipating a full report, including virology and diagnostic results, in 10 to 14 days.
He declined to speculate about whether the zoo will look for a new tiger. "At this point, we haven't even had that conversation," he said.