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Tiger death still a mystery

Published: 6:12PM Monday November 05, 2001

MAF is still investigating how a poisonous cow carcass came to be fed to a precious Sumatran tiger at Wellington Zoo.

Thirteen-year-old Jambi died after four days in a coma and his death is a blow to the Pacific region's breeding programme.

The supplier has been shut down but MAF says the mistake is probably a one-off.

Jambi's mate Cantik was also ill from the same contaminated meat that killed him.

Their son is Wellington Zoo's only other tiger, so Jambi's death has left them without a breeding pair.

"It's a real blow as you can imagine, you can't just get on the phone and say send me another couple of tigers," says Zoo manager Alison Lash.

The zoo's tests show pentabarbitone - a drug used to put animals down - killed the rare tiger.

MAF is investigating and is not ruling out legal action.

"If there was wrongdoing yes (legal action) is an outcome, but the investigation's far too early at this stage to conclude that," says Tony Zohrab of MAF.

The meat came from Christchurch company Dog's Delight. MAF has shut them down and they were not returning calls on Monday.

But another zoo is still using a different batch from the same company.

"We know the sources that it came from and so we're very secure in the fact the meat we have on hand is good," says Lynn Anderson, director of Christchurch's Orana Park.

Big cats eat around four kilos of fresh meat a day. The tainted meat also affected 21-year-old Manta.

"We had eight big cats that could have been fed that meat so it could have been a much bigger disaster," Lash says.

There are less than 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild and 250 in captivity.

Jambi has fathered a third of all the tigers in Australasia so his mate is not the only one who thinks he is a great loss.

MAF says the contaminated meat did not reach supermarket shelves.

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