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Update on Emerson the Sumatran tiger

Necropsy results for Emerson, the 10-year-old male Sumatran tiger who died at Zoo Atlanta on November 8, 2017, have shown that he had cholangiocarcinoma, or cancer of the bile duct. Results further showed that the cancer had metastasized to his abdomen, causing the symptoms the Zoo’s Veterinary Team had been treating prior to his death.

The necropsy, or the animal equivalent of an autopsy, was performed through Zoo Atlanta’s partnership with the University of Georgia Zoo and Exotic Animal Pathology Service in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Zoo Atlanta announced Emerson’s death on November 9, 2017. The Zoo Atlanta Veterinary Team had been closely monitoring the tiger following recent visible signs of a decline in his health and behavior, including lethargy and lack of appetite. Despite veterinary treatment, he continued to decline. The teams performed an emergency diagnostic examination in an effort to determine the cause of his illness, but Emerson did not survive. Diagnosis of illness is challenging in wild animals, particularly in wild cats, which mask symptoms of illness as a tool of survival in the wild.

Emerson arrived at Zoo Atlanta in May 2017 on loan 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.

Rachel Davis, Director of Communications
404.624.2812 – office
404.309.2238 – cell

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; one of North America’s largest zoological populations 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 and giant pandas. 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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