Zoo: We've 'Never Experienced an Accident Like This'

Mila, a Siberian tiger at Colorado's Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, suffered injury under anesthesia
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 30, 2023 11:31 AM CDT
Zoo's Rare Tiger Slips and Dies
Mila, a Siberian tiger, died Friday in what the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo described as a "freak accident."   (Toronto Zoo via Cheyenne Mountain Zoo)

There are thought to be roughly 1,000 Siberian tigers in the world, the majority of those held in captivity. Now, there's one fewer. A critically endangered Siberian tiger held at a Colorado zoo died in a "freak accident" Friday during preparations for a dental procedure, ABC News reports. After receiving a dose of anesthesia, the 2-year-old female named Mila fell off a bench and suffered a spinal injury from which she could not recover, according to officials at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs. Mila had jumped up on the waist-high bench "where she began to lay down and peacefully let the anesthetic drugs take effect," according to the Tuesday statement announcing her death. Seconds later, she began to slip.

"It was impossible from a human safety standpoint to stop her tragic fall," the zoo said. "She could have slid off from that height a hundred times and landed in a variety of other positions and been unaffected," noted head veterinarian Dr. Eric Klaphake. He said officials "quickly entered her den when it was safe and diligently tried for 40 minutes to give her life-saving care." The young Siberian tiger, also known as an Amur tiger, arrived from the Toronto Zoo in March, per the Denver Post. After much training, the "feisty and intelligent tiger" was "getting so close to being out where guests could see her," said an animal care manager at the zoo. But a recently discovered dental infection needed to be addressed first.

"This was not just a cavity, and it could not be left untreated, as it was advancing to her sinuses," zoo officials said, noting the infection could've been fatal. "You can plan and plan and things still go wrong," said Bob Chastain, the zoo's president and CEO. "We have successfully anesthetized countless tigers in this same den and have never experienced an accident like this." Another female Siberian tiger named Savelli died at the zoo in 2021 due to complications after an artificial insemination procedure, per ABC. The zoo said the two deaths, though unrelated, show how the "fragile state of their species is glaring." Just 350 to 450 Siberian tigers are thought to remain in native habitats, according to the Denver Zoo. (Another died in a fight at a UK zoo.)

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