A 9-month-old tiger cub was rescued by a team of folks who found the feline in dreadful conditions. They didn’t think she’d make it, but this tiny feline proved everybody wrong, by finding something she’d never experienced at the circus: love.
Veterinary technician Vicky Keahey, is the founder of Texas-based rescue organization, In-Syn Exotics. They specialize in exotic cats, and for more than 20 years, Keahey has help rescue and care for many wild cats. Despite being so experienced, she encountered a heartbreaking case of extreme neglect in March of 2011, when she rescued Aasha, a Bengal tiger cub.
Despite being 9 months old, Aasha looked quite small for her age. She weighed only 30 pounds, which is the equivalent of a tiger cub of only 3 months of age. Aasha was heavily underweight, as she should’ve weight approximately 120 pounds at her age. When Keahey was interviewed by The Dodo, commented, “I asked how could a 9-month-old tiger be that small.” But that wasn’t the only problem Aasha was facing.
Aasha’s stunted growth was the least of her problem as her health was pretty deteriorated. She suffered from cracked, darkened, and dry skin, and her fur was falling off. She had tons of bald spots on her body, and worst of all, the people who brought Aasha to the center, didn’t know what was causing it. But Keahey took one glance and immediately figured it out. She had a ringworm! Sadly, the fungal infection didn’t justify the tiger’s wounds.
After Keahey took a closer look at Aasha’s skin, she noticed her open wounds were consistent with bite marks. But they weren’t tied to the fungal infection. The rescuer suspected Aasha might’ve been left to fend for herself from bigger animals, most likely tigers. Turns out, Keahey was completely right.
The resilient tiger cub was rescued by the United States Department of Agriculture. They had been inspecting a traveling circus when they suddenly realized that animals had not been properly cared for. The signs of neglect and malnutrition were far too obvious on Aasha, and on top of that, she’d been locked up with an adult male tiger who constantly nibbled and attacked the baby cub. The USDA inspector requested Aasha to be transferred to Keahey’s care, and she obviously accepted.
When Keahey started caring for Aasha, she immediately put her in an isolated enclosure, as a way to avoid the infection from spreading, but also protecting her from other cats. She started treating her with medication, which Aasha had to take twice a day. Keahey spent a lot of time bonding with her and earning her trust. Aasha’s treatment called for medicated baths, which ended up posing a challenge for the carer.
As time went on, Keahey noticed how much Aasha disliked the water. She would even refuse to take a bath. Whenever they had to bathe her, she’d run away, leaving Keahey and the vet technician chasing after the sneaky cub. After a few weeks, the cub finally got used to the routine. But no one would expect Aasha to become so enamored with the water.
Eight weeks later, Aasha’s health started to improve significantly. Her fur started growing, covering her bald spots, and she was getting bigger and stronger. She was finally looking like the strong tiger she was meant to be, and was loving her baths more and more. Keahey even placed a small bathtub in her enclosure so she could play in it. But the cub needed another 6 months to take the next step and finally heal.
After eight months of treatment, Aasha was looking healthy and strong. She had become so big, in fact, that Keahey had to bond with the tiger through games, as she couldn’t get inside the enclosure for safety reasons. Still, Aasha really enjoyed playing around with Keahey, getting soaked with a water hose. But it was time for her to socialize with other tigers.
Aasha had finally moved to a different enclosure, and now she had a new neighbor. A male tiger named Smuggler, who was immediately drawn to her. Keahey said, “He went crazy for her and was always showing off for her.” Aasha was also pretty taken. The two connected really fast, perhaps, due to Smuggler’s history of neglect, which was so similar to Aasha’s.
Smuggler had been rescued from a team of people who tried to smuggle him into the country. When he was rescued, he was 4-months-old and ailing from a botched declawing. He was 20 pounds underweight. Once he arrived at the center, he underwent surgery to mend the broken bones on his toes. When Aasha arrived, Smuggler was over a year old. His gentle character made him the ideal mating candidate. The only problem was…he was 3 times her size!
In the beginning, the two lovely tigers went on supervised playdates as a way to make sure that they’d get familiarized with one another. This would prevent Smuggler from accidentally hurting little Aasha. These arranged supervised dates would allow the tigers to interact personally during short periods of time. Sometimes, they would even take baths together, which is Aasha’s favorite thing in the world. But a few weeks later, they were ready to take it to the next step.
Once the two lovebirds spent enough time getting acquainted with one another, the staff decided that these two were finally ready to cohabitate in the same pen. The two tigers were finally free to lounge around in their enclosure, take long baths together, and develop a friendly relationship. It felt like these two were in it for the long run.
Four years have passed, and Aasha and Smuggler are still together. She’s finally become an adult, and although Aasha is quite big, she’s half his size. They understand each other so well! Aasha knows how to handle herself, and when she wants some space, Smuggler stays put. She’s definitely evolved from the time she arrived at In-Sync. And Keahey only hopes to never see such a case of neglect.
Keahey’s organization isn’t just in charge of caring for exotic cats. They also seek to educate the public on conservation of wildlife. On their sanctuary tours, they share each animal’s story on how they were rescued. “It is our dream that one day there will be no need for rescue facilities, but until that day happens, we will continue to educate the public on the realities of uncontrolled, captive breeding practices and the need for conservation,” was added on their website.