Lingling, the oldest Chinese Tiger in captivity, is suspected to have cancer, said a zoologist in Guiyang, capital of southwest China's Guizhou Province, earlier this week.
The tigress, approaching 20 years old, was found at the end of 2003 to have a suppurating intumescence on her right eye. A recent examination showed that the tigress is developing a tumor, which is probably malign, said veterinarian Zhang Lingli, deputy manager of the Qianling Zoo.
Lingling was first diagnosed with a benign tumor in her saliva glands in October 2001, and underwent surgery. Another tumor was found five months later in March 2002, which caused vomiting and bleeding.
Ma Hong, a surgeon from the Hospital of the Guiyang Medical College, said that the second tumor was probably malign. Ma operated on Lingling with four colleagues in April 2002 to remove her second tumor.
Further examination, however, is needed to decide whether the new tumor is malign and can be removed, Zhang said.
The Chinese Tiger (panthera tigris amoyensis), from which other sub-species such as the Siberian Tiger evolved, is a critically endangered tiger sub-species native to south China. It is listed as one of the world's ten most endangered animals.
Today, fewer than 30 Chinese Tigers remain in the wild while about 60 survive in Chinese zoos. It is estimated that they would disappear by 2010 if they are not well protected.
Lingling was born in May 1985 at a zoo in Shanghai and was moved to the zoo in Guiyang later the same year.
Usually a wild Chinese Tiger can live 13 years at most. One living in captivity can enjoy a longer life of around 20 years.
Another Chinese Tiger at a zoo in Chongqing, southwest China, is 17 years old.
Lingling, however, is childless. Zhang said that the tigress was once "married" to a Chinese Tiger from a zoo at Suzhou, a city in east China, but their six-year long marriage ended fruitless when Lingling's mate died in the early 1990s.
Continued illness has left Lingling weighing only 90 kilograms. The tigress weighed 150 kilograms before she got sick, said Hou Guangli, a zoo keeper who began to take care of Lingling in 2000.
"Before she fell ill, five kilograms of meat was only a piece of cake to her, but now she no longer has such a good appetite," Hou said.
Lingling is now under special care at the zoo. In addition to four roomy cages, in which the tigress lives in turn for sanitation reasons, she can also enjoy the sun in a separate "playground."
The tigress now feeds on chicken, pork and beef. She also takes anti-tumor and anti-caducity medicine, Zhang said.
"The daily spending on Lingling's food and medicine is more than 100 yuan (more than 12 US dollars). She is now the most beloved animal at the zoo," Zhang said.
There are also two Siberian Tigers at the zoo.