Since her teens, tigers and lions have captured Linda McGarva-Cohen’s heart.
"I just think they are such amazing and incredible creatures," said McGarva-Cohen. "They have a certain spirit and strength and beauty and gentleness, playfulness, yet independence, and compassion. Maybe I’m humanizing them but that’s the pull I have to them."
McGarva-Cohen and her husband James Cohen, CEO of investment company Gendis Inc. and son of Albert Cohen, who brought Sony to Canada, donated $500,000 to the
Assiniboine Park Zoo for an improved habitat for the Asian cats.
"It’s tremendous," said Don Peterkin, chief of zoo operations. "To have people in the community come forward with that level of support, and they selected the tigers as their choice because they are self-professed cat lovers and they saw the need."
McGarva-Cohen and her husband have two cats at home named Stripes and Jasper.
Peterkin said though the tiger exhibit was to code when it was built in 1965 and renovated in 2004, it would not meet today’s standards.
"Where we’re going, particularly with the three phases over the next couple of years, will really give us the opportunity to provide that much of a better environment," he said.
The three phases include pens 10 times the size of the current pens, said Peterkin. He said when the tigers are pacing in their enclosures, it often means they aren’t being mentally stimulated.
By the end of summer 2013, the first pen will feature natural vegetation and a pond for the tigers to swim in. Amur tigers are one of the few cats that actually like to swim, said Peterkin. By the end of the three phases the zoo hopes to have a training program to help zoo staff care for the tigers and multiple breeding animals, said Peterkin.