A 2-year-old Amur tiger died in a “freak accident” after being given anesthesia at a Colorado zoo.
Mila was given the drug on Friday for an upcoming dental procedure to treat a life-threatening issue, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo announced Tuesday.
After receiving the anesthesia, Mila jumped on a nearby bench to lie down while it took effect — then slipped off at an angle that caused her to suffer a fatal spinal injury.
“She could have slid off from that height a hundred times and landed in a variety of other positions and been unaffected,” said Dr. Eric Klaphake, the head veterinarian at the Colorado Springs zoo.
“The team quickly entered the den when it was safe, and diligently tried for 40 minutes to give her life-saving care.”
Mila, who was the only cub to survive in her litter, had been sent to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo from the Toronto Zoo in March on a future-breeding recommendation.
“She was making such great progress with us,” said Rebecca Zwicker, an animal care manager at the facility.
“She was a feisty and intelligent tiger, and the team had been patiently and consistently training with her to help her settle in and feel comfortable in indoor and outdoor spaces behind the scenes.”
Zwicker added that zoo officials were getting ready to introduce Mila to guests when they discovered the potentially fatal dental issue.
Leadership at the zoo said they made a number of considerations and were well-prepared to give the tiger anesthesia.
“Our team delivered exactly the right amount of drugs to a very calm tiger who had trained for this moment,” said Bob Chastain, CEO and president of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
“We have successfully anesthetized countless tigers in the same den, and have never experienced an accident like this,” he noted. “We never take decisions to anesthetize an animal for a procedure lightly, and this is a tragic example of why.
“You can plan and plan, and things still go wrong,” Chastain added.
Following the announcement, staff at the Toronto Zoo also expressed their grief.
“She will be deeply missed by all, and while we feel certain the connections she made with guests will stay with them for a lifetime and were an inspiration to get involved in the fight to save this endangered species in the wild, we are deeply saddened by her loss,” Dolf DeJong, CEO of the Toronto Zoo said.
Mila is the second Amur tiger to die unexpectedly at the Colorado zoo.
In 2021, 9-year-old Savelli died as a result of complications during recovery from an artificial insemination procedure.
Her death inspired zoo officials to begin donating to tiger preservation in the wild.
Amur tigers are mostly solitary creatures native to Russia. They are critically endangered in the wild, with just 500 living in natural habitats.
Nearly 100 more live in human care in the United States and Canada.
“We feel a huge responsibility for all of the animals in our care, and we especially feel for Mila, her current and past caretakers and the people in Toronto who loved her from birth as the only survivor of her litter,” Chastain said.
“Not only was she an internationally beloved individual who defied the odds as a cub and survived to adulthood, but she was here on a mission to save her own species.”