CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks
Sooner, a Bengal tiger, was born in a wildlife preserve in Wynnewood, Okla., in May. When he arrived in Clovis at 11 weeks old, he barely had his eyes open. Today he is thriving under the care of Mark Yannotti, assistant zoo director at Hillcrest Park Zoo, who acts as his surrogate parent.
The name game: Clovis resident Adrik Alvarez, an elementary student at La Casita, won Hillcrest Zoo’s tiger naming contest, held late last year. He called him Rocky Sooner, which was later shortened to Sooner.
Animal cribs: Sooner lives in an outdoor, chain-link pen the size of a four-bedroom house. His yard is a custom-made playground featuring giant logs for scratching, a tire and plastic slide for chewing, and planks and barrels for climbing and pouncing. He has a private pool outside and his attached, enclosed dwelling has heating and air-conditioning.
Life expectancy: Tigers have a life expectancy of 10 to 20 years in the wild and 10 to 25 years in captivity. Both of Hillcrest Zoo’s previous tigers were acquired as adults and died by the age of 13. Due to the young age at which Sooner was procured and his early exposure to good nutrition, he has a longer life expectancy.
Dwindling numbers: Bengal tigers are on the endangered species list. They are native to India and due to hunting and deforestation, there are more Bengal tigers in captivity than there are in the wild.
Happy camper: When Sooner is happy (mostly when Mark Yannotti is around) he makes a “chuffing” noise similar to a cat’s purr, but louder.
Why what big teeth you have: At 8 months old, Sooner is teething and still has his baby canines, which are only 1 inch long. His adult canines are expected to grow to 3 inches.
Daily diet: Sooner eats two pounds of raw chicken or beef and three to four pounds of balanced feline supplement (cat food) daily, an amount equivalent to 20 quarter-pound cheeseburgers. In adulthood he is expected to consume seven to 10 pounds of food daily.
In the wild, tigers hunt and eat large game such as deer and wild pigs. Because wild Bengals do not eat daily, wild tigers can consume up to 50 pounds of meat in a single meal.
Paws: Sooners’ massive paws are 6 inches in diameter and have razor sharp claws 2 inches long.
Tail: Sooner’s tail is approximately 2 feet long.
Stretching out: On his hind legs, Sooner stands 5 feet tall. He is expected to stand 7 feet tall on his hind legs by the age of two, when he reaches adulthood.
Weight: Sooner weighed 4 pounds at birth. At 8 months old he tips the scales at 100 pounds and is expected to reach 300 to 400 pounds by maturity. He will be only slightly smaller than a full-grown lion.
On the go: Bengals can reach a top speed of 35 mph for short bursts while chasing their prey.
Source: Mark Yannotti, assistant Zoo director at Hillcrest Park Zoo in Clovis. Yannotti has been a zoo keeper at Hillcrest for 27 years.