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The Zoo Atlanta family is saddened to announce the passing of Sparky, an 18-year-old male Sumatran tiger, on December 14, 2022.

The Animal Care and Veterinary Teams had been treating and providing supportive care for Sparky, who was considered geriatric for a tiger, for multiple age-related conditions, including renal disease and osteoarthritis. Compounding these conditions, Sparky recently fractured a tooth, and while a tooth fracture is generally repairable, the potential pain and difficult recovery from such a procedure presented a continued decline in his well-being. Given the slow deterioration of his condition, his age, and his poor long-term prognosis, the teams made the difficult decision to euthanize him.

Born April 22, 2004, Sparky arrived at Zoo Atlanta in 2018 from another Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) organization. His move was recommended by the AZA Tiger Species Survival Plan® (SSP), which seeks to maintain healthy, genetically diverse, and self-sustaining tiger populations within accredited zoos and is just one example of the many collaborative efforts by AZA zoos to preserve animal populations for future generations. Sparky was recommended to pair with Chelsea, the female Sumatran tiger at the Zoo. While both Sparky and Chelsea had previous offspring with other mates, the pair produced no offspring at Zoo Atlanta.

Tigers are solitary in the wild. As such, Chelsea, who is also considered geriatric at 19 years old, did not share space with Sparky at The John P. Imlay Tiger Habitat.  

“Zoo Atlanta is heartbroken by the loss of Sparky, who was greatly loved by his care team and who inspired awe and fascination in all visitors who had the privilege of seeing him here at the Zoo. Our Animal Care and Veterinary Teams pursued every avenue in his care, even in the face of unresolvable age-related conditions,” said Jennifer Mickelberg, PhD, Vice President of Collections and Conservation. “While losing such a special and beautiful individual is never easy, we are especially disheartened by the loss of such a critically endangered animal.”

While Sparky was beloved as an individual by his care team and by Zoo Members and guests, the loss of any Sumatran tiger is a blow to the population of one of the world’s rarest tiger subspecies. Listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Sumatran tigers are believed to number fewer than 400 in the wild on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. They face serious pressures from habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, particularly as a result of deforestation for palm oil plantations, and illegal poaching for their skins and bones, which are believed by some cultures to have medicinal value. Tigers are also killed by humans when they approach local villages and prey on livestock.

All six remaining tiger subspecies are critically endangered or endangered, and three subspecies are recent extinctions. The Bali tiger, Caspian tiger and Javan tiger all went extinct in the 20th century. The South China tiger, which has not been documented in the wild since the 1980s, likely now only exists in human care.

Zoo Atlanta is one of only a small number of zoos to pursue and attain membership in the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil™ (RSPO). Zoo Atlanta and many other AZA zoos are vocal advocates for encouraging the use of only sustainably produced palm oil, the unsustainable harvest of which threatens the survival of Sumatran tigers, Sumatran orangutans, and many other species.

The Tiger Conservation Campaign is a past beneficiary of Zoo Atlanta’s annual Quarters for Conservation initiative. The project works to prevent human-tiger conflict in Sumatra by erecting tiger-proof livestock pens in villages, helping local veterinarians respond with assistance for wild tigers caught in poachers’ snares, and promoting outreach and awareness. Through its Mabel Dorn Reeder Conservation Endowment Fund, Zoo Atlanta has also supported efforts to study tiger populations to maintain preservation of a wildlife corridor in Sumatra’s Aceh Forest.

A necropsy will be conducted through the Zoo’s partnership with the University of Georgia Zoo and Exotic Animal Pathology Service in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

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

Gavin Johnson, Public Relations and Communications Specialist
404.624.5980 – office


About Zoo Atlanta

A proud accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the gold standard for animal care and welfare, Zoo Atlanta has a mission to save wildlife and their habitats through conservation, research, education, and engaging experiences. The Zoo is home to more than 1,000 animals representing more than 200 species from around the world, many of them endangered or critically endangered. Highlights include giant pandas, including Ya Lun and Xi Lun, the only giant panda twins in the U.S.; 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. Recent transformations include the African Savanna, featuring new and expanded habitats for African elephants, giraffes, zebras, ostriches, warthogs, meerkats, and rhinos; Savanna Hall, a state-of-the-art special event destination in the newly restored historic former home of the Atlanta Cyclorama; and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation Plaza. For more information, visit

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