Regular vet checks for Singapore Zoo’s 15-year-old white tiger to keep tabs on his health

Image 1: A team of three from the zoology and veterinary department of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (parent company of Singapore Zoo) preparing 15-year-old male white tiger Omar for a blood draw. Here, head vet Dr Serena Oh (right) prepares a syringe as junior keeper Hamidan Mislan holds steady the tail, while deputy head Keeper Kumar Vall (centre) distracts Omar on the other side of the conditioning chute with calming words and chunks of meat. Photo Credit: Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Image 1: A team of three from the zoology and veterinary department of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (parent company of Singapore Zoo) preparing 15-year-old male white tiger Omar for a blood draw. Here, head vet Dr Serena Oh (right) prepares a syringe as junior keeper Hamidan Mislan holds steady the tail, while deputy head Keeper Kumar Vall (centre) distracts Omar on the other side of the conditioning chute with calming words and chunks of meat. Photo Credit: Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Singapore, 29 January 2015 – The usually active white tiger Omar lay down quietly in his conditioning chute as deputy head keeper Kumar Vall spoke in calming tones and fed him meaty treats. On the other side of the chute, head vet Dr Serena Oh and junior keeper Hamidan Mislan quietly and quickly drew blood from the 15-year-old male tiger’s tail. The procedure, a blood draw to determine Omar’s health, was over in less than 10 minutes.

As Omar progresses into his senior years, keepers and vets are keeping a closer eye on the white tiger to ensure they stay on top of his healthcare needs. Blood test results showed that his liver and kidneys are functioning normally. He is also receiving treatment for keratisis in his left eye, a condition in which the cornea becomes inflamed or dry.

Image 2: About 3ml of blood was drawn from Omar through his tail. His blood test results revealed that he is generally in good health for a tiger well into his geriatric life stage. His liver and kidneys are found to be functioning normally. Photo Credit: Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Image 2: About 3ml of blood was drawn from Omar through his tail. His blood test results revealed that he is generally in good health for a tiger well into his geriatric life stage. His liver and kidneys are found to be functioning normally. Photo Credit: Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Unlike health checks for some of the zoo’s animals which require sedation, Omar’s was conducted through operant conditioning, a method that allows keepers to train and obtain desired behaviours from animals under their care. This technique is less stressful for the animal, keepers and vets when conducting veterinary and animal management procedures.

Image 3: The white tiger has been conditioned to respond to certain commands which allow zoo keepers and vets to perform regular check-ups without putting him through the stressful process of sedation. Here, Omar responds to deputy head keeper Kumar Vall’s hand signal to open his mouth to check on the condition of his gums and teeth. Photo Credit: Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Image 3: The white tiger has been conditioned to respond to certain commands which allow zoo keepers and vets to perform regular check-ups without putting him through the stressful process of sedation. Here, Omar responds to deputy head keeper Kumar Vall’s hand signal to open his mouth to check on the condition of his gums and teeth. Photo Credit: Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Through this method, Omar was conditioned to respond to commands such as sitting and opening his mouth, allowing zoo staff to keep an eye on his health more regularly while strengthening the bond between him and his keepers.

Popular with visitors, Omar has charmed visitors since arriving in Singapore Zoo on 6 April 2001. Born in Indonesia’s Taman Safari, Omar and his two sisters Winnie and Jippie arrived in Singapore when they were 19 months old. Winnie and Jippie have since passed on.

In the wild, tigers have an average lifespan of between 10 to 15 years while those in zoological institutions live 16-20 years on average.