El Paso Zoo Tiger Loses Battle with Kidney Disease

This morning the El Paso Zoo staff lost its 18-year-old Malayan tiger Belahat. Yesterday he was confirmed as being in the final stages of age-related kidney failure.

Recently, Belahat had been eating only his favorite foods and appeared to be losing weight. He was moved to the Zoo’s Animal Medical Center yesterday for diagnostics. The animal care team confirmed through blood and urine tests that his kidneys were in critical condition due to his advanced age and progressing degenerative kidney disease.

The veterinary staff gave him intravenous and subcutaneous fluids in order to provide some relief to his kidneys and keep him hydrated, and hoped to try additional medications this week to continue managing his kidney disease.

Belahat was approximately 18 years old and was first diagnosed with kidney disease two years ago. He had a kidney and bladder infection making his kidneys worse at that time, but he responded well to antibiotics and multiple recheck exams, and his kidney function improved.

However, degenerative kidney disease is a common and irreversible problem in older cats, both domestic cats and exotic cats like tigers, and Belahat had exceeded the life expectancy of Malayan tigers under human care, which is in the mid-teens.

“We knew it was a likely outcome given his age, but it’s still sad when we have an animal with an illness that can’t be reversed,” said Zoo Veterinarian Dr. Victoria Milne. “We thought we could provide him a bit more time so we are all really sad, but we’re glad we were able to make him comfortable in his final moments.”

“Belahat was a geriatric tiger, so we know what’s to be expected as we take great care in our animals and they get older—that’s our job,” said Zoo Director Steve Marshall. “But that doesn’t mean it makes this any easier. He was with us for five years, and in those short five years, he became a member of our Zoo family. It’s just a tough time for all of us at the Zoo.”

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has a Species Survival Plan (SSP) Program that oversees the population management of select species at AZA member institutions throughout the United States. Belahat was born in the rainforests of Malaysia where he came into conflict with humans and was rescued by a zoo before he came to the US to help with SSP conservation efforts.

In 2012, the SSP program called for Belahat to be sent from the Bronx Zoo to the El Paso Zoo. Although he has been at the El Paso Zoo for five years, the Bronx Zoo is the current owner of Belahat. Over his lifetime, Belahat contributed to his species’ surival by siring four male and three female cubs.

The Malayan Tiger qualifies for listing as Critically Endangered (CR) under criterion C1 because the best available evidence indicates that the number of mature individuals is likely less than 250 animals and has declined by more than 25% in one generation.

Belahat and the other Malayan tigers at the El Paso Zoo, Seri and Melor, serve as an example of the Zoo’s three-pillars of wildlife conservation.

  1. The Zoo provides excellent and expert care for animals, prioritizing their welfare and wellbeing.
  2. The Zoo is actively saving wildlife from extinction through its conservation work at the zoo and in the field.
  3. The Zoo acts and communicates with the purpose of inspiring people to value wild animals, taking responsibility for their safeguarding and action for their stability.