Shere Khan, the beloved Bengal tiger that lives at the Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary in Locust Grove, is reportedly in “critical” condition.
Allison Hedgecoth, animal husbandry manager for the 40-year-old nonprofit, however, said the extent of the big cat’s illness is not completely known.
“We’re very guarded and right now we’re in a state of limbo” she said.
Shere Khan is part of what is known as the BLT (Bear, Lion and Tiger) a trio of animals that have lived together at the sanctuary since they were cubs. The three were found malnourished and riddled with parasites in the basement of a drug dealer’s house during a raid in 2001.
In addition to Shere Kahn, there was Baloo the black bear and Leo the lion.
Leo died of cancer in 2016.
Several weeks ago, Shere Khan, who is 17 ½ years old, began showing signs of poor health.
First he stopped eating and became lethargic, which was a “red flag.” Then, veterinarians noticed a small drainage tract under his jaw, most likely from a tooth abscess, a pocket of pus caused by a bacterial infection.
“You could look in his eyes and tell he wasn’t feeling good,” Hedgecoth said.
The tiger was put on antibiotics and other medications.
Instead of getting noticeably better, though, Shere Khan began walking unsteadily. At first, Ark officials though it was another disc issue, but a veterinarian neurologist thought it most likely stemmed from something going on in his brain, “which is not good, depending on what it is,” said Hedgecoth.
More comprehensive diagnostic tests, though, carry certain risks. They involve the use of anesthesia and transporting the tiger as far as two hours from his home.
Hedgecoth hopes she won’t have to make that decision.
The last few days, Shere Khan has started eating and drinking more and moving around. Five cameras monitor him at all times.
“Hopefully, this is just one of those things, afterall this is an older animal,” she said.
Her worst fear is that if he doesn’t get better, she may have to put him down.
Animals have an instinct, she said, when they’re ready to die.
So far, she hasn’t seen that in Shere Khan. She said Bengal tigers in captivity usually live 16 to 18 years.
“We want to make sure every day is a good day,” said Hedgecoth, who has kept supporters informed on the nonprofit’s Facebook page. “His well being is the only thing that we want.”
She said the sanctuary is accepting donations to help with his care.
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