Roanoke, VA - Since the death of Ruby in 2007, Roanoke's Mill Mountain Zoo has been talking about trying to bring in another tiger. Now, they're in luck, and tigers could be heading back there soon.
The Species Survival Program regulates who gets tigers and who doesn't. They say they have enough breeders and what they really need are facilities like Mill Mountain to help raise young tigers.
Now, the Zoo is making plans to house as many as four young tigers at a time - if they can afford it.
The only thing to remind visitors of the days when a tiger named Ruby was the zoo's star attraction is a statue that and the memory of thousands that loved her just like 10-year old Katie Mitkos.
"She was beautiful. She would walk out every once in a while. She was my favorite animal until she died," said Mitkos.
Getting a tiger back has been one of the zoo's priorities. But as time has gone by, zoo administrators envision Mill Mountain being used as a tiger orphanage, of sorts that would raise tigers to adulthood as many as four at a time.
"We could have one or two. We could have all four. We could have one now and then. So it would be a flexible population," said Sara Brooks with the Mill Mountain Zoo.
Flexible as mature tigers are placed in permanent homes. It's an ambitious plan that would see much of the eastern slope of the mountain top converted to an Asian theme to include the tigers, bears and other Asian mammals.
"Young cats.... anyone who has raised young cats; they do stay active for quite a while so that would be fun for people to come and watch," said Brooks.
"That would be really cool. It would be one of the star attractions here. A tiger pit!" said Mitkos.
In all, the zoo says $1.5 million would allow it to realize this major new direction that would put Roanoke on the map of saving a species that most experts say will be extinct from the wild in coming years. Just 3,200 tigers remain in the wild.