Paka, father of Fresno Chaffee Zoo tiger cubs, dies

The Fresno BeeApril 7, 2014 

Paka, a male Malayan tiger at Fresno Chaffee Zoo who sired the four cubs born in January, has died, zoo officials announced Monday.

The 17-year-old tiger had been in declining health before he was euthanized Saturday, the zoo announced.

Paka started showing signs of declining health last September. Paka improved for a while, but then showed a sharp decline about three weeks ago, said zoo assistant curator Lyn Myers. His health issues were age-related.

"Since March we've been having a really tough time making him comfortable and making him feel secure in his environment," Myers said. "In knowing that and seeing the difficulty he was having, euthanasia was basically a choice that we had to make to end his suffering."

Paka will undergo a necropsy -- an animal autopsy -- to determine what caused his decline in health. Results will likely take weeks.

Despite being considered an older tiger -- longevity for Malayan tigers is 16 to 20 years -- zoo officials said Paka was very active and really vocal.

"It was a cool sound to have in the zoo because no matter where you were, you could always hear him calling," Myers said. "He will be missed by all."

Paka had been away from exhibit for about a month. The cubs' mom, Mek, is considered fairly old to be a parent at 16 years but appears to be in good health, Myers said.

The zoo has no plans to bring in another male tiger in the near future, said Heather Davis, the zoo's marketing associate.

On Monday, zoo visitors were saddened by the news, but were happy to recall their memories of Paka.

Photographer Dean Lawrence remembered when Paka arrived from the San Diego Zoo in 2011. Lawrence, a member of the Fresno Camera Club, usually visits the zoo every Monday.

During his weekly visits, Lawrence would snap photos of Paka.

"I have thousands of shots of him at home," he said. "Paka was great. He was quite the character."

On a warm sunny day, Paka was known to sit near the pool and take long naps.

Mother Amanda Hutson was visiting the tiger cubs with her daughter Savannah, 9, and son Nathan, 8, when she heard the news.

"It's sad that he's gone but he lasted quite a while in captivity," she said. "I didn't know they lived that long. It's quite amazing."

Paka sired five litters and a total of 14 cubs, contributing greatly to the conservation of Malayan tigers, the zoo said.

Inman Perkins, who has worked as a docent for seven years after retirement, said Paka was truly one of a kind.

"He would always make me look like a genius. If I had a tour and he was walking I'd chuff and he'd chuff back," Perkins chuckled.

"I'm going to miss him a lot."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6659, or @DianaT_Aguilera on Twitter.

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