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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.

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