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Emerson, critically endangered tiger, has died

Emerson, a 10-year-old male Sumatran tiger and a member of one of the rarest big cat species in the world, has died at Zoo Atlanta. The Animal Care and Veterinary Teams had recently been monitoring Emerson following visible signs of a decline in his health and behavior, including lethargy and lack of appetite. When he did not respond to veterinary treatment, during the evening of November 8, 2017, the Veterinary Team performed an emergency diagnostic exam in an effort to determine the cause of his illness, but Emerson did not survive.

“This is a devastating loss for the Zoo Atlanta family, not just of this magnificent individual we were only just beginning to get to know, but for the entire Sumatran tiger population,” said Jennifer Mickelberg, PhD, Vice President of Collections and Conservation. “Tigers are now more numerous in zoos than they are in the wild, and it is critical that we preserve their populations. The loss of any individual is very difficult.”

Born November 24, 2006, at the Sacramento Zoo, Emerson was on loan to Zoo Atlanta from the Jackson Zoo in Mississippi. He had been recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Tiger Species Survival Plan® (SSP) to pair with Chelsea, Zoo Atlanta’s 14-year-old female tiger, and arrived in Atlanta in May 2017.

Sumatran tigers are among the most critically endangered of all the planet’s remaining tigers. Believed to number fewer than 400 in the wild on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the species faces serious pressures from habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, particularly through deforestation for palm oil plantations, black-market poaching for skins and bones, and killing by humans when tigers enter local villages and prey on livestock. The Tiger SSP, one of many SSP programs in which Zoo Atlanta is an active contributor, seeks to maintain healthy, genetically diverse and self-sustaining tiger populations within accredited North American zoos.

Zoo Atlanta supports the Tiger Conservation Campaign, one of three programs currently benefiting from the Zoo’s Quarters for Conservation initiative. The project works to prevent human-tiger conflict in Sumatra by constructing tiger-proof livestock pens in villages, increasing outreach and awareness, and helping local veterinarians respond with assistance for wild tigers caught in snares. Zoo Atlanta’s Mabel Dorn Reeder Conservation Endowment Fund has supported projects to research tiger populations to maintain preservation of a wildlife corridor in Sumatra’s Aceh Forest. The Zoo is a member of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil™ and is a vocal advocate for encouraging the use of only sustainably-produced palm oil, the unsustainable harvest of which is resulting in population declines of Sumatran tigers and many other species.

The smallest of all tigers, Sumatran tigers are one of six remaining tiger subspecies, all of which are critically endangered or endangered. Three tiger subspecies, the Caspian tiger, Javan tiger and Bali tiger, were all 20th century extinctions.

A necropsy will be performed through the Zoo’s partnership with the University of Georgia Zoo and Exotic Animal Pathology Service in the College of Veterinary Medicine. Preliminary results should be available in coming weeks.

Rachel Davis
Director of Communications
404.624.2812 – office
404.309.2238 – cell

Gavin Johnson
Public Relations & Communications Specialist
404.624.5980 – office

About Zoo Atlanta
Viewed as one of the finest zoological institutions in the U.S. and a proud accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Zoo Atlanta has a mission to inspire value and preservation of wildlife through a unique mix of education and outdoor family experiences. From well-known native wildlife to critically endangered species on the brink of extinction, the Zoo offers memorable close encounters with more than 1,000 animals from around the world. Zoo highlights include giant pandas, including Ya Lun and Xi Lun, a set of twins born to Lun Lun on September 3, 2016; North America’s largest zoological population of great apes; and a global center of excellence for the care and study of reptiles and amphibians. Scaly Slimy Spectacular: The Amphibian and Reptile Experience, featuring more than 70 species in a 111,000 square-foot complex, is the world’s first LEED Gold-certified reptile and amphibian exhibit. The Zoo’s newest experience, Treetop Trail presented by Kaiser Permanente, opened in March 2017. Up-close-and-personal animal experiences include behind-the-scenes Wild Encounters with African elephants, African lions, Aldabra giant tortoises, giant pandas and warthogs. Zoo Atlanta is open year-round with the exceptions of Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Keeper talks, interactive wildlife presentations, education programs and special events run year-round. For more information, visit

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