Kunali, the Alaska Zoo’s remaining tiger, dies at 19

A tiger at the Alaska Zoo
Kunali came to Alaska with his brother Korol in 2008 as part of a conservation program. (Courtesy Alaska Zoo Staff)

The remaining tiger at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage died last week, according to an announcement from zoo officials. The tiger, named Kunali, died a year after his brother Korol. Both tigers were 19 when they died due to complications with old age.

Kunali was an endangered Amur tiger, better known as a Siberian tiger. Sam Levin, curator at the zoo, spent a lot of time with both tigers and said the staff called them “the boys.” She said 19 years is extremely old for the species.

“He had some kidney issues and just typical old cat things,” she said. “So it wasn’t anything that we weren’t treating him for or, you know, something completely unseen.”

Levin credits the tigers’ long lifespans to genetics. Kunali and Korol came to Alaska as part of an endangered species breeding program within zoos, known as a species survival plan. It’s estimated that between 350 and 450 Amur tigers remain in the wild. Levin said going through the survival program ensures the zoo is getting a healthy animal. 

“We want these animals that are an actual species that represent their species in the wild, that can help teach about conservation,” Levin said.

Two tigers in snow
Tigers Korol and Kunali were commonly called “the boys” by zoo staff. (Courtesy Alaska Zoo Staff)

Levin said tigers are solitary animals and it’s unusual to see two tigers living together unless they’re siblings. Because the brothers spent their entire lives together, she said they were best friends. 

“They definitely had a sibling relationship where, you know, Kunali would be trying to do something and Korol would jump on top of him,” she said. “It was like you would see cats playing at your house — cats are the same big and small.”

Levin said the zoo is working to bring another tiger to the Alaska Zoo.

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