A rare Amur tiger died in a “freak accident” at a Colorado zoo as she fell off a bench and suffered a fatal spinal injury after being given anaesthetic for dental work.
The tiger named Mila, one of only 500 in the world, only moved to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (CMZoo) in Colorado Springs from Toronto Zoo in March 2023.
Officials say that after being given an initial injection of anaesthetic, two-year-old Mila jumped onto the waist-high bench and lay down. But within a minute they say she slipped from it, causing the fatal injury.
“Given the short timeframe from her lying down to her slipping off, it was impossible from a human safety standpoint to stop her tragic fall,” the zoo said in their statement.
“She could have slid off from that height a hundred times and landed in a variety of other positions and been unaffected,” added Dr Eric Klaphake, CMZoo head veterinarian.
The zoo’s medical team entered the tiger’s den as soon as it was safe to do so and despite giving her life-saving care for 40 minutes she died.
“These are impossible life-and-death decisions being made in real time,” said CMZ Zoo president and CEO Bob Chastain. “You can plan and plan and things still go wrong.”
He said that the medical team had given the “right amount of drugs to a very calm tiger who had trained for this moment.”
And he added that numerous tigers had been safely anaesthetised in the same den in the past.
“We never take decisions to anaesthetize an animal for a procedure lightly, and this is a tragic example of why,” said Mr Chastain.
Officials say that they had undertaken the procedure because the dental problem needed to be addressed.
“This was not just a cavity; and it could not be left untreated, as it was advancing to her sinuses. Left untreated, infections like this can be fatal for animals,” said the zoo.