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 Aleksei, one of the 2-year-old Amur tiger brothers at the Detroit Zoo, lounges on the rocks in his expanded new habitat.

Aleksei, one of the 2-year-old Amur tiger brothers at the Detroit Zoo, lounges on the rocks in his expanded new habitat.

Photo provided by the Detroit Zoo


Expanded tiger habitat opens at Detroit Zoo

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published September 23, 2019

 Aleksei reclines in a pool in the new Devereaux Tiger Forest.

Aleksei reclines in a pool in the new Devereaux Tiger Forest.

Photo provided by the Detroit Zoo

 Guests can sit in the driver’s seat of a Land Rover, whose heated hood extends into the new tiger habitat, at the Detroit Zoo.

Guests can sit in the driver’s seat of a Land Rover, whose heated hood extends into the new tiger habitat, at the Detroit Zoo.

Photo provided by the Detroit Zoo

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ROYAL OAK — One team of tigers is having a good season.

On Sept. 13, the Detroit Zoo hosted “opening day” for its Amur tigers and publicly unveiled the new Devereaux Tiger Forest habitat, which houses 2-year-old brothers Nikolai and Aleksei, and 16-year-old female Kisa.

The brothers were born at the Columbus Zoo; Kisa was born at the Detroit Zoo.

The new $3.5 million, 1-acre habitat, which is four times larger than and incorporates the old habitat, is located in the zoo’s Asian Forest and reflects the tigers’ native landscape of eastern Russia, with elevated vantage points, open spaces, wooded areas, pools, a waterfall and a cave.

Detroit Zoological Society Chief Life Sciences Officer Scott Carter said the tigers’ premier was “nothing short of amazing.”

“It was a beautiful day, and the thousands of people who were here had an amazing time watching the tigers explore their huge habitat,” Carter said. “I just can’t describe it. It was so much fun to watch.”

While the habitat was undergoing construction, Carter said, Nikolai, Aleksei and Kisa lived in the quarantine area of the zoo’s animal health center. The brothers arrived at the Detroit Zoo in June.

Carter said Nikolai and Aleksei were introduced to their new home Sept. 11 and surprised staff by being more cautious and taking longer to explore the whole habitat. However, by the end of Sept. 12, he said, they had explored everywhere.

Nikolai, Russian for “victorious,” and Aleksei, Russian for “defender of mankind,” weigh approximately 365 pounds and 335 pounds, respectively. Kisa, Russian for “kitty,” weighs in at close to 300 pounds.

Carter said the brothers are still growing and could conceivably reach up to 500 pounds. Amur tigers are the largest members of the cat family and the largest of the five remaining subspecies of tigers, according to the zoo.

In captivity, Carter said, Amur tigers can live into their late teens. The zoo feeds them a commercially prepared feline diet, bones for treats, and occasional chunks of raw fresh meat from goats, sheep or cows, he said.

“(The brothers) are still playful and we see that out in the habitat. They don’t go everywhere together, but sometimes they sneak up and pounce and wrestle,” he said. “Kisa lives apart from the boys. That’s our choice, because we know Kisa. She’s at an age where she doesn’t want to put up with a lot of roughhousing.”

He added that tigers’ normal social structure is more solitary.

During the colder months, Carter said, several locations will be warmed by heating coils, including the cave, two of the big rocks by the pools, and the hood of the Land Rover, the other half of which extends outside the habitat so that guests can sit in the driver’s seat and score an up-close view.

“We have no doubt the Devereaux Tiger Forest will be very popular with visitors, especially with the incredible vantage points, and we’re sure the tigers will enjoy their new digs with more room to prowl and play,” Detroit Zoological Society CEO and Executive Director Ron Kagan said in a prepared statement. “We hope by seeing tigers here at the Detroit Zoo, people will be inspired to learn more about their conservation in the wild and feel empowered to take action to help save them.”

Carter said the decision to expand the habitat was not arbitrary, but necessary.

“It’s really important for this species to have a huge, complex habitat with all kinds of things in it,” he said. “They have evolved to live in a large home range in order to find enough to eat.”

In the future, he said, the zoo plans to bring in a female Amur tiger as part of a breeding program, meaning that one of the brothers will relocate to another zoo.

“We don’t know when,” Carter said. “It will probably be a couple of years.”

Amur tigers, previously known as Siberian tigers, are listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature — there are an estimated 500 remaining in the wild due to threats such as poaching, habitat loss and disease, according to the zoo.

The new habitat was made possible by a $1 million gift from the Richard C. Devereaux Foundation, support from the DeRoy Testamentary Foundation, individual donors, contributions from the 2017 “Giving Zoo Day” fundraising campaign, and proceeds from this year’s Sunset at the Zoo “Asian Forest” gala.

The Detroit Zoo is located at 8450 W. 10 Mile Road, west of Woodward Avenue.

For more information, visit www.detroitzoo.org or call (248) 541-5717.

Call Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at (586) 218-5006.

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