Two Siberian tigers being acquired by ZooMontana from a Florida zoo could arrive in Billings as early as Monday.
"We are hoping they’ll be here next week," said Jeff Ewelt, executive director of ZooMontana.
The cats are being shipped to Billings by Dade City’s Wild Things, an ecotourism zoo near Tampa, Fla., where they currently live.
The tigers will be shipped in specialized crates in a climate-controlled truck, Ewelt said. The cats probably won't have to be sedated on the trip, he said, as the females have a mild disposition.
"They’re pretty easygoing cats," he said.
The Siberian sisters are named named Sophie and Jasmine, and that probably won't change.
Their move will cost $4,000, but it won't cost ZooMontana anything.
"RBC Wealth Management is going to sponsor their travel up here for us," Ewelt said.
The pair are about 19 months old and will live in ZooMontana's tiger enclosure, which was left vacant when beloved tiger Prince died earlier this year.
It was a kind gesture from Dade City to give up the two tigers free of charge, Ewelt said.
"I believe the zoo just wanted to help us out," he said. "They understand the importance of them and felt we were a worthy organization."
In preparation for their arrival, the zoo has been doing some work to spruce up the place.
"We’re kind of rehabbing the tiger exhibit right now," Ewelt said. Arrowhead Elementary students and ExxonMobil have donated a combined total of about $15,000 to get it ready for the new occupants.
Glass panels that had sustained some cracks over the years were replaced, and new signs have been installed. The signs will include more information about the animals and contain links to information on the ZooMontana website that visitors can access by scanning codes with their smartphones.
"It will be a better opportunity to learn about the animals," Ewelt said.
Siberian tigers are the largest cat in the world. On average, they weigh 500 to 600 pounds.
Only about 500 of the animals remain in the wild, and they are found in the northern forests of Russia, China and the Korean peninsula.
The females are expected to live about 20 years in captivity. In the wild, their lifespan is about 14 years.
The tigers will certainly be the largest addition to the zoo this year, but plans are in the works to construct a trout pond near the bear exhibit and acquire an Australian bird called a laughing kookaburra.
The new cats will be seen by about 10,000 kids on field trips to ZooMontana in the next month alone, and the large turnout is expected to keep up this summer as the tigers adjust to their new home.
"I think it’s going to be a big draw this summer," Ewelt said. "You can’t go many places in Montana to see a Siberian tiger."