Manitoba

Tiger at Assiniboine Park Zoo moving to Toronto

Assiniboine Park Zoo is saying goodbye to Vasili, one of its Amur tigers.

Six-year-old Vasili 'one of our members of our family,' animal care worker says

Vasili, an Amur tiger who has lived at Assiniboine Park Zoo since 2014, will be moved to the Toronto Zoo. His last day at the Winnipeg exhibit will be Sunday, May 27. (Assiniboine Park Zoo)

Assiniboine Park Zoo is saying goodbye to one of its tigers. 

Vasili — one of three Amur tigers at the zoo — will be transferred to the Toronto Zoo. His last day at the Winnipeg exhibit is on Sunday. 

"It's always hard to say goodbye to one of our members of our family," said Allison Ginsburg, curator of animal care, large carnivores, at Assiniboine Park Zoo. 

"We spend a lot of time, the animal care staff, really developing relationships with our animals," she said. "It does make it that much harder, of course, to have them leave us."

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan Program proposed the move. The organization facilitates breeding programs for threatened or endangered species that urgently need to be conserved.

Brothers Samkha, left, and Vasili, right, were transferred to the Assiniboine Park Zoo in 2014 after they were born at the Calgary Zoo in 2012. (Assiniboine Park Zoo)

In this case, the transfer was done for display and education purposes rather than for breeding. The Toronto Zoo doesn't have any tigers but have an area for them, Ginsburg said.

"We're certainly hoping that in the future we'll be recommended for [tiger] breeding," said Ginsburg.

The six-year-old tiger and his brother Samkha were born at Calgary Zoo in March 2012 and moved to Winnipeg in January 2014.

Ginsburg described Vasili as a bright tiger, quick to pick up new concepts. When a scale was introduced in the den to keep track of their growth, Vasili jumped on it right away while his apprehensive brother took a month to gain the courage.

Vasili is a "bit more investigative than his brother," said Ginsburg.

Tiger responsible for mauling death

Vasili killed another tiger in his first year at Assiniboine Park Zoo. An older male tiger pushed open a mistakenly unlocked gate to enter a den with Vasili and Samkha. The 19-year-old tiger got in a fight with Vasili.

A zoo veterinarian said Vasili was not to blame for the older tiger's death.

"It was a tiger defending his territory against another male that he would only see as a rival. You can't fault him for being a tiger," Dr. Chris Enright said at the time.

Vasili's brother Samkha will remain at the tiger enclosure, along with Volga, a four-year-old female Amur cat who has lived in Winnipeg since December 2015.

An Amur tiger, also called a Siberian tiger, is an endangered species that lives in the Russian far east, pockets of China and possibly in North Korea, the World Wildlife Federation says. The conservation group estimates 540 of the tigers live in the wild.

Lions not expected to roam

Besides a pair of tigers, the zoo has a number of other large cats on display, including snow leopards, cougars and Canadian lynx. 

Lions were last kept in captivity at the zoo in 2016, before twin Asiatic lions were relocated to England.

That may have marked the end of hearing the roar of a lion at Assiniboine Park Zoo, said Ginsburg.

"We've been kind of steering our animal population toward animals that are more cold-weather hardy," she said, adding that the zoo's priorities may change in the future.

People who want to bid farewell to Vasili are invited to listen to animal caretakers at the Tiger Trails Zoo Chat, offered daily at 10:30 a.m. at the tiger enclosure.

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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