World’s oldest tiger dies at Popcorn Park Zoo in New Jersey
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2013:
FORKED RIVER, New Jersey––Bengali, 24, believed to be the
oldest tiger on record, died on January 18, 2013 after undergoing
surgery to remove a tumor from his pancreas. Bengali had spent the last
decade of his life as the emblematic animal at the Popcorn Park Zoo, a
sanctuary for wildlife and large domestic species operated since 1977 by
the Associated Humane Societies of New Jersey.
Reportedly bred and raised to be shot at a Texas hunting ranch,
Bengali was said to have escaped that fate when in 1990 the U.S. Fish &
Wildlife Service cracked down on “canned hunts” featuring species
listed as endangered or threatened by the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species.
Nearly 15 years later, recalled Popcorn Park Zoo director John
Bergmann, “Bengali was the last cat left at a defunct big cat
sanctuary in Texas, from which we had taken three other tigers the year
before. In January of 2003 someone called us to help out with Bengali
because no one else could take him in and he was starting to fail. In
May 2003 Bengali arrived––emaciated, weak and with hardly any will
to live. His first accomplishment was just being able to jump up on his
bench. That took a week. Then he began acknowledging us, walking a
little more each day, and gaining back some strength.”
Bengali, already older than most tigers live to be, made
faster progress after learning that an elderly African lioness named Jaz
lived in an adjacent enclosure. Their friendship was brief, as Jaz
died in December 2003, but by then Bengali had befriended many other
Popcorn Park Zoo animals and staff.
Though aware that Bengali was old for his species, the
Associated Humane Societies did not know he might have been the oldest
tiger ever, Associated Humane president Roseann Trezza told ANIMAL
The next oldest tiger whose exact age was known was Huahua.
Born in 1985 at a zoo in Guangzhou, China, Huahua later lived in zoos
in Suzhou and Luoyang, where she died on August 14, 2007, mourned by
Chinese state media as the oldest tiger in the multi-milennia recorded
history of tiger captivity in China. About 30% of the South China tigers
in Chinese zoos today are reportedly descended from Huahua and her 24
Two other tigers are known to have reached age 23. Dani, a
longtime resident of the Stropkov Zoo in Slovakia, became the world’s
oldest tiger after Huahua died. The oldest is now Flavio, 23, who
lives at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida.
“Flavio arrived in 2002 after retiring from the circus,”
recalls Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin. “He was hailed as the
smartest circus tiger ever known. He performed a light-and-music number
flawlessly for years, until he decided one day that he didn’t like
the other tigers and all he wanted to do was fight. He is known here as
having the loudest voice of any of our tigers. What sounds like loud
moaning is actually just his way of communicating with all of us. And,
you can always count on him to give a demonstration of how powerful a
tiger’s spray can be when marking his territory and possessions.”
Ivan, 20, the oldest known tiger at an accredited North
American zoo, was euthanized in January 2003 due to conditions of age.
Born at the Fort Worth Zoo, Ivan had lived at the Potter Park Zoo in
Lansing, Michigan, since 1989.