Nevada wildlife sanctuary probes deaths of tiger, wolf

RENO — A Nevada wildlife sanctuary is awaiting test results from a California laboratory to determine what killed a tiger and wolf and seriously sickened a cheetah.

The Animal Ark near Reno said a 21-year-old tiger died on Feb. 6, a day before a 3-year-old wolf died and a 9-year-old cheetah was found comatose. The cheetah has since recovered.

A barbiturate from an undetermined source is suspected as the cause of the deaths and illness after the cheetah tested positive for the drug, said officials at the nonprofit, fully accredited sanctuary. Food also has not been ruled out as the cause.

Though there are legitimate reasons to give animals barbiturates, the Animal Ark does not keep the drugs on site, spokeswoman Jan Alaksa said. Barbiturates are used to sedate or euthanize animals.

Tissue, blood and organ samples from the wolf and food and water samples from the sanctuary are being tested at a laboratory, she said, declining to identify it. Test results are expected next week.

“The lab will be screening for every toxic substance,” Alaksa told The Associated Press. “If it determines it was barbiturates, we know where to start looking.”

Infectious disease has been ruled out as the cause, she added, and officials found no evidence someone broke into the facility to poison the animals.

It’s the first incident of its kind at the rural sanctuary that opened in 1981. It’s permanent home to between 30 and 36 disabled wild animals unable to live in the wild, with at least one wolf, tiger, bobcat, lynx, coyote, fox, mountain lion, black bear, raccoon and badger.

Animals are given names. The tiger that died was called Shere Khan and the wolf that died was named Maddie.

“For the staff and volunteers who care for them it’s a devastating loss,” she said. “These animals are personal to us. They have individual characteristics and individual histories. For us to see them get sick or die is very personal and it does make us all very sad.”


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