Tiger talk, life move on without Mali

Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. tiger talk at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium was a heartbreaker.

As the zoo’s senior staff biologist, Paul Povey, took the microphone, two Sumatran tigers – not three – emerged from the underground passage beneath the viewing platform and ambled into the sunlight on the far side of the pond.

“I have some sad news today, ladies and gentlemen,” Povey told the three dozen visitors. “Mali, our little Sumatran tiger cub, is no longer with us. She died last night as a complication of surgery.”

Like many zoo staff members, Povey struggled Saturday to maintain his composure when speaking of the 14-month-old cub’s unexpected death.

Losing any young animal at the zoo is difficult – especially those who represent species that, like Sumatran tigers, are critically endangered.

But plucky little Mali, who seemed to have fought her way back from surgery in November, had captured the hearts of staff members and visitors to an unusual degree.

Within hours of the zoo’s announcement of Mali’s death late Friday, 70 people had signed onto the zoo’s Facebook page to express condolences and sorrow.