Ann Ayres took one look at the big cat and decided she wanted one.
“I’d love to take her home,” the Brandywine Hundred resident said. “I love kitty cats.”
But this particular kitty cat isn’t going anywhere just yet. The 3-year-old Siberian tiger named Zhanna was introduced to the public Thursday as the newest inhabitant of the Brandywine Zoo in Wilmington.
Zhanna, one of fewer than 500 Siberian, or Amur, tigers in the world, arrived June 29 from the St. Louis Zoo and has been quarantined since then to get used to her new environment and her zoo keepers.
“She was a pretty frightened cat when she first came to us,” said Brandywine Zoo Director Nancy Falasco. “A lot of her life changed. She arrived here among people she didn’t know.”
Zhanna seemed comfortable in her new surroundings, relaxing one moment, and then playfully pawing at a large ball or rolling around in the grass the next. Many of the zoo’s visitors commented on her thick orange coat with dark vertical stripes.
Anne Ayres noticed something else.
“Her whiskers,” she said. “I was looking when she came up close. They’re enormous – the size of tooth picks.”
The species, typically found in far eastern Russia and northeast China is critically endangered, due in part to loss of habitat, human encroachment and poaching.
J. Gregory Ellis, President of the Delaware Zoological Society, says Zhanna’s arrival will help make the public aware of the need to protect these animals.
“Our emphasis is to help educate people about tigers,” Ellis said, “the problems tigers face as an endangered species and the efforts zoos and other organizations are making to conserve them and their wild habitats.”
Ann Ayres came to the zoo on this day, she says, to get a glimpse of an endangered species. She left with another goal.
“I wish I could scratch her tummy and make her purr,” she said. “She’s perfect, a magnificent creation.”