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Heran, a Sumatran tiger living at the Louisville Zoo, has died

The Louisville 16 year old Sumatran tiger, Heran, was known for his missing eye making it appear that he was winking at guests.
Louisville Zoo
The Louisville 16 year old Sumatran tiger, Heran, was known for his missing eye making it appear that he was winking at guests.

The Louisville Zoo announced the death of Heran, their 16-year-old Sumatran tiger, on Thursday.

Zoo officials euthanized Heran Monday after a struggle with both lymphoma and leukemia.

Steven Taylor, the assistant director of conservation, education and collections for the Louisville Zoo, said that Heran was diagnosed in January 2022, and his condition quickly deteriorated.

“He really went pretty fast, so it wasn’t very long,” Taylor said.

Once Heran was diagnosed, the Zoo began “end of life care.” Zookeepers, managers and veterinary staff met to create a list of behaviors that indicate good health and those that indicate decline. Then they observed.

“It got to the point where we could easily tell he was losing weight,” Taylor said. “He just didn’t have the energy to go very much anymore, his appetite declined, and all of those things told us that the disease was progressing very fast.”

In 2017, Heran came to the Louisville Zoo from the Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington, Ill. His transfer was part of conservation efforts from the Sumatran Tiger Species Survival Plan.

Sumatran tigers are considered critically endangered species. With only about 75 in zoological parks throughout North America and an estimated 400 in the wild, efforts to keep the species reproducing are rare and take a great amount of planning.

Officials tried to pair Heran with a female Sumatran tiger at the Louisville Zoo, but attempts at reproduction were unsuccessful during his lifetime. However, there is still hope that he will contribute to the continuation of his species.

“We were able to collect semen from him before he was euthanized,” Taylor said. “It would be available down the road for artificial inseminations with other females that would be genetically optimal, so there’s still a chance that he passes his genes along.”

The Louisville Zoo staff hopes to welcome another male Sumatran tiger from another facility to attempt reproduction with a female tiger who already lives in Louisville. 

Beyond the legacy of continuing his species, Heran has left an impact on Zoo staff and guests.

Heran became known for his missing eye, removed due to glaucoma complications when he first arrived in Louisville. Zoo officials said it often looked like he was winking at guests.

Zoo staff described Heran as a kind tiger with a good temperament. He adjusted to Louisville quickly, and many zookeepers fell in love with the talkative feline. 

“We do get close to a lot of the animals we take care of, and we really do care about them,” Taylor said. “It’s like a family member passing for a lot of those keepers.”

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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