Mai the tiger has seen her share of battles.
Born in the wilderness of Pahang province, Malaysia, the Malayan tiger was found with her front left leg ensnared in a poacher’s trap. Veterinarians amputated the limb to save her life, and the less-than-2-year-old tiger underwent rehabilitation at Malaysia’s Malacca (or “Melaka”) Zoo before arriving at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in 2003.
Since then, Mai has successfully navigated life on just three legs, raising three litters of cubs on her own and partaking in regular enrichment activities with keepers. According to the zoo’s Web site, Mai “has an affinity for fragrant perfumes and playing in beds of hay.”
At 18 years old, the tiger is now considered a senior. Though she is unusually friendly for an animal from the wild, she’s still known to be more skittish around humans than big cats that grew up in captivity.
It’s perhaps these survival instincts that kicked in early Sunday morning, when Jacqueline Eide, 33, managed to get inside Henry Doorly Zoo before it had opened with the intention of petting a tiger, according to a police statement. When she allegedly reached into a cage, a tiger — which zoo officials believe to have been Mai — bit Eide’s hand, causing severe trauma.
A friend of the woman took her to Creighton University Medical Center, where she remains for treatment.
The Omaha Police Department was alerted to the incident when they received a call from the center about a disturbance with a patient who had a hand injury. Eide, who was cited for criminal trespassing, was allegedly aggressive toward hospital staff and, according to police, “showed signs of intoxication of alcohol and/or drugs.”
The incident is under investigation.
“The safety and security of our guests and animals are always a priority at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium,” zoo executive director and chief executive Dennis Pate said in a statement on the zoo’s Facebook page. He noted that security cameras, new path lighting and computer-controlled locks have been added to better monitor exit and entry.
Many commenters expressed concern that Mai would be disciplined for the injuries sustained by Eide. “Like everyone else has said,” Tracey Martinez wrote, “I hope they don’t destroy the tiger. It’s not the tiger’s fault at all.”
The zoo personally responded to several individuals who shared this sentiment, following up with a broader comment Sunday evening: “Thank you everyone for your concerns about Mai, our Malayan tiger. Mai will remain on display as normal and go about life as usual. No action will be taken against her.”
The general response to this news has been relief.
“That is good to hear!” one commenter wrote. “Too many animals are ‘put down’ because some humans decided to be morons.”