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Venerable Amur tiger dies at St. Louis Zoo

FOREST PARK — The St. Louis Zoo has said good-bye to a beloved Big Cat: Kalista the tiger. Kalista was nearly 20 years old and had been undergoing treatment for her aging joints, but the treatment could not longer keep her comfortable.

The zoo euthanized Kalista at Big Cat Country on Saturday.

The zoo’s animal care team described Kalista as an amazing mother tigress and a very special cat. 

“Kalista was a very social and energetic tiger. She enjoyed interacting and training with the keepers and greeted everyone with a ‘chuff,’ which is a tiger-specific vocalization showing affection. We will all miss her,” said Steve Bircher, curator of carnivores at the zoo.

She was 19 years and 10 months old; the average age for a female Amur tiger is 14. She had been the oldest living female Amur tiger in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ North American Species Survival Plan Program. Amur tigers are critically endangered. Their natural habitat is eastern Russia, northeastern China and northern regions of North Korea.

Kalista was born at the Philadelphia Zoo in 2001 and moved to the St. Louis Zoo in 2003. She gave birth in 2008 to an unusually large litter of five cubs, all of whom she raised. A normal litter size for Amur tigers is two or three.

Kalista and three of her five cubs at the St. Louis Zoo

The father of the five cubs, Khuntami, was born in the wilds of eastern Russia and came to St. Louis from the Omaha Zoo in 2006. The pairing and cubs’ birth was carefully planned by the AZA Tiger Species Survival Plan, a program to manage a genetically healthy population of tigers in North American zoos. Khuntami and all five of their offspring moved to other zoos.

The St. Louis Zoo’s other Amur tiger, Waldemere (Waldo), is currently the oldest living male in the tiger survival program, at age 18 years and 10 months. The average life span for male Amur tigers is 16. Waldo came to St. Louis at age 8 from the Denver Zoo in 2011.

Waldo fathered a female cub with Kalista in 2012. That cub needed to be hand-reared by the animal care team and soon moved to the Minnesota Zoological Garden to be raised with another hand-reared cub.

“Kalista’s offspring are very important to the survival of the Amur tiger species,” Bircher said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Staff is home to The NorthSider and The SouthSider weekly community newspapers. The SouthSider publishes 25,000 copies every Tuesday. The NorthSider publishes 25,000 copies every Thursday. They are distributed at over 600 locations across St. Louis.

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