Zoo searches for a new big cat as Siu Fa begins to feel her age

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 January, 2008, 12:00am

The Zoological and Botanical Garden has started looking for a replacement for its only jaguar, which has almost reached the end of its life.

Visitors to the zoo in Mid-Levels recently reported that a female jaguar was seen 'hobbling along, dragging its hindquarters, and apparently in distress' in its enclosure.

Zookeepers said yesterday that the jaguar might be having difficulty walking because of overgrown claws in its hind paws.

But the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which manages the zoo, said the jaguar was suffering from conditions normally associated with ageing and was being treated.

Nicknamed Siu Fa, the jaguar was born in a German zoo in 1987 and was brought to Hong Kong in 1989. Its male partner, Siu Hak, which was born in Hong Kong in 1987, died in 2003.

Zoo manager Chiu Yuen-ying said the 21-year-old jaguar has already lived beyond its average life expectancy of 20 years.

He said her age was now the human equivalent of a centenarian. 'Because of its old age, it has become less active as its physical fitness declines,' he said, adding that the jaguar was still in satisfactory condition with a good appetite.

The jaguar was under special care and was provided yesterday with a heater in its enclosure to keep it warm amid the cold weather. Caretakers also ensure meat for its meals is free of bones.

The jaguar's health is closely monitored by a resident veterinary surgeon.

Meanwhile, the department said it had started looking for a replacement since last year, adding that it was looking at other endangered animals apart from jaguars.

The department last night said it planned to introduce another endangered species to maintain the conservation programme of the zoo.

A source said the most likely sources of jaguars were from overseas zoos which also successfully bred the species.

Timothy Lam Fung-ngai, senior programme officer of Traffic East Asia, which monitors the international trade of animals and plants, said the zoo should not take any animals from non-captive-bred sources.

He said releasing the animals in the wild was not a viable option because past experience indicated many of these animals failed to adapt to the new environment.