"She could have slid off from that height a hundred times and landed in a variety of other positions and been unaffected," the zoo's head veterinarian said
The life of a rare Amur tiger was cut short after a "freak accident" at a Colorado zoo on Friday.
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (CMZ), located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, shared the sad news about its 2-year-old tiger, Mila, on Facebook Tuesday.
Mila moved to the CMZ from the Toronto Zoo in March after her caretakers determined the tiger was ready to leave her mother and have "her own space."
"She was making such great progress with us," Rebecca Zwicker, the animal care manager of the CMZ's Asian Highlands, said in a statement. She noted that Mila was "feisty and intelligent" and beginning to get comfortable at the zoo.
After Mila arrived at the CMZ, the zoo discovered that the tiger had a "severe dental issue," which "could not be left untreated" because it was advancing to her sinuses.
"Once they realized she needed surgery to treat her dental issue, they prioritized re-establishing voluntary injection training that the Toronto Zoo Wildlife Care staff had previously established," the CMZ wrote on Facebook, adding that Mila picked up the training quickly.
On Friday, in preparation for her dental procedure, Mila "voluntarily received the injection of initial anesthesia, then she jumped up on a bench where she began to lay down and peacefully let the anesthetic drugs take effect."
Unfortunately, shortly after settling on the waist-high bench, Mila slipped off the bench and fell to the floor. The fall caused a fatal spinal injury. The zoo noted on Facebook that "it was impossible from a human safety standpoint to stop her tragic fall."
"She could have slid off from that height a hundred times and landed in a variety of other positions and been unaffected," Dr. Eric Klaphake, the CMZ's head veterinarian, shared in a statement. "The team quickly entered her den when it was safe and diligently tried for 40 minutes to give her life-saving care."
The zoo's president and CEO, Bob Chastain, said in his own statement that Mila's care team had delivered "exactly the right amount of drugs" to the tiger and noted that this had not happened when they had administered anesthesia to other tigers in the same den with the same bench previously.
"These are impossible life-and-death decisions being made in real time by a team that has dedicated their life to the care of animals," Chastain said in his statement. "And that despite the best professional care that we give these animals, accidents can happen and will happen as long as there is a critical need for conservationists to help highly endangered species survive in human care and in the wild."
"While CMZoo and Toronto Zoo teams work through the loss, CMZoo is focused on preventing this freak accident from happening in the future," the zoo added in its social media announcement.
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According to the CMZ, this is the second Amur tiger to die at the facility in the past three years. In 2021, a female Amur tiger named Savelii died due to complications from an artificial insemination procedure.
The Amur tiger is a critically endangered species native to the forests of Asia, according to The World Wildlife Fund. The CMZ noted that only an estimated 500 individual tigers live in the wild and about 100 Amur tigers in human care.
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