FORT WAYNE — Majestic and lovely, Kemala celebrated her fifth birthday not with a cake, but with a huge drumstick – a cow’s leg.
Kemala, a Sumatran tiger, was the main attraction Thursday at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, with hundreds of people joining in the big cat’s celebration. The Schultz family of Fort Wayne watched Kemala from the observation deck as she chowed down on the massive bone, stopping only to lick her chops from time to time.
Caleb, 14, has had a fascination with tigers for many years, said his mother, Nadine Schultz, of Fort Wayne. The family has an annual zoo membership but made a special point to visit the zoo specifically for Kemala’s birthday celebration.
Also in tow were Zalmon, 10, and Zednic, 2.
Caleb said he has a special fascination with tigers and other wild cats.
“It was just tigers for years, but now I also like the smaller wild cats like ocelots,” he said.
Caleb, Zalmon and Zednic sat quietly near the constant, long line of spectators and observed the tiger for some time while their mother took photos.
The family moved to Fort Wayne from California, and Caleb developed a special interest in tigers from frequent visits to the San Francisco Zoo when he was young, Nadine Schultz said.
Visiting the zoo through the years has been fun and educational for Caleb and Zalmon, and Shultz wants her toddler to enjoy the same experience, she said.
The zoo celebrates the birthday of one of the animals every year, said Cheryl Piropato, the zoo’s education director.
Kemala especially enjoyed her birthday treat, Piropato said.
Kemala was kept in a separate area while zoo staff placed the cow leg bone in her habitat area, Piropato said.
“When we released her back into the area, it took a few minutes for her to find the bone, but once she found it, she has not stopped chewing on it,” Piropato said.
The Sumatran tiger is a critically endangered species native to the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Estimates say that less than 500 such tigers live in the wild, because of poaching and habitat loss.
Kemala was born at the Los Angeles Zoo, Piropato said, and she is one of two Sumatran tigers at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.
The Sumatran tiger is the smallest of five remaining tiger subspecies – three other subspecies have become extinct in the past 70 years, including the Bali, Javan and Caspian.
In addition to celebrating the tiger’s birthday with songs and cow legs, the zoo offered educational material at various stations on how to help save the Sumatran tigers and their habitat.
At another station, children could sign a giant birthday card for Kemala.
One little girl, deep in thought, her eyebrows furrowed in concentration, laboriously printed the words, “I love you.”