Kent isn’t the first place you would think of to go tiger spotting, but that is all set to change with a new arrival taking up residence in Canterbury. Achilles is a young Sumatran tiger who has been transferred from London Zoo to Howletts Wild Animal Park.
The 125-kilogram beast is incredibly rare; in fact his species is on the International for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as critically endangered. And here lies the reason for his relocation – Achilles will be part of a breeding programme in his new home.
Due to the dual threats of poaching and habitat loss, it is predicted that there are just 400 to 500 Sumatran tigers left. This makes it critical that healthy animals procreate to ensure the continuation of the species into the future.
Once he is fully grown, Achilles could weigh up to 140 kilograms and father the next generation of Sumatran tigers in Kent. Trained keepers have welcomed him to the animal park with special treats to make him feel at home.
Mark Hawkes, deputy head of carnivores at Howletts, said: "Achilles is already settling in well to his new habitat. He's a very handsome cat, strong and confident. He's been exploring at his own pace and when he's not exploring he's either sunbathing on one of his high platforms or resting in the shade.
"Achilles is very motivated by food and he seems to really enjoy this type of interaction with us, although he likes to remind us that he is mighty by occasionally hissing at us through the fence."
The park is home to another Sumatran tiger, Amir, who may well end up being Achilles’ mate. Sadly, another female big cat at Howletts had to be put down last August, as she was suffering from advanced osteoarthritis.
Animal director, Adrian Harland, said: "It is a sad fact that Sumatran tigers are critically endangered in the wild.
"Captive breeding programmes could play a vitally important role in saving the species and, once we have introduced Achilles to a suitable mate, we are all hoping that it won't be long before we hear the patter of tiny paws at Howletts."
The park is open from 9.30am to 5pm seven days a week and represents a great day out for all the family. It operates as a charity, meaning the money collected from ticket sales helps to further its conservation work. Book a coach to get everybody to Howletts and back against without any fuss.
Photo credit: iStock/CraigRJD