Duluth zoo's new attraction: 'She's 100% tiger'

The female tiger, Taj, follows Lana, who died in November.

Taj, a six-year-year old, 300-pound female Amur tiger, surveys its new surroundings at the Lake Superior Zoo Monday morning. (Steve Kuchera /
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The roar has been restored at the Lake Superior Zoo, where a new Amur tiger is on display and was formally presented Monday.

The female tiger, Taj, fills a void left in November, when 15-year-old Amur tiger Lana was euthanized following months of treatment for liver disease. Taj came to Duluth from the Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend, Ind.

“Everything fell into place; South Bend had too many tigers,” Dave Thompson, director of animal management, said during a news conference. “So, (it was) a little bit of luck, but also a little bit of planning as well.”

Dave Thompson, Lake Superior Zoo’s director of animal management, talks about the zoo’s new tiger during Monday’s news conference. (Steve Kuchera /


Taj was born in March 2013 at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, and was a parent-reared animal. Her predecessor, Lana, was human-reared, and there is a difference. Taj will only be viewable from the upper balcony for now until she is acclimated to crowds, who often view the tiger exhibit through a lower-level observation glass.

"Human-reared animals are always going to look at people as the people who raised them," Thompson said. "They almost look at them as tigers in human form. So they are a lot more relaxed around humans.

"Taj, on the other hand, having been raised by her mom, is a tiger. She’s a tiger-tiger. She’s 100% tiger. So she is a little bit more uncomfortable with people. So we want to give her space and make sure she has time to acclimate.”

Lizzy Larson, Lake Superior Zoo’s primary carnivore keeper. (Steve Kuchera /

The goal, for now, is to keep the 300-pound tiger from having eye-level contact with visitors, making for a less threatening environment. Eventually, the lower-level observation window will be available.

Amur tigers have a lifespan of 10-15 years in the wild and 15-20 in a zoological facility. It's estimated there are 350-500 of the animals in the wild, mostly in their native southeast region of Russia, with smaller numbers in China and North Korea.

Since her arrival Jan. 7, Taj has proven to love the snow and enjoy "boomer balls" — hard toys she rolls around with.


"(She) is perfectly suited for the weather here in Minnesota," Lizzy Larson, primary carnivore keeper, said.

Taj is the fourth tiger to call the Lake Superior Zoo home.

“Obviously, Lana was a fantastic tiger; she had a lot of personality," Larson said. "Taj has equal amounts of personality, but just might be displaying it slightly differently than Lana did. She was parent-reared so she has a little bit more feistiness to her, but she is a fantastic animal to have here.”

This article was updated at 2:35 p.m. Jan. 13 to correct the source of a quote.

A sign on a door to the deck overlook the Lake Superior Zoo’s tiger enclosure asks visitors to be quiet as Taj adjusts to her new surroundings. (Steve Kuchera /

Samantha Erkkila is a former digital content producer for the Duluth News Tribune.
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