August 31, 1997 in Nation/World

Tiger Cub Loses His Room, But Still Cozy Corona Had Own Bedroom, TV In Rowhouse; Owner Charged With Violating Species Act

Suzette Parmley Philadelphia Inquirer

With his cable TV gone, Corona is now making do with a portable radio. Still, the Bengal-Siberian tiger found in a North Philadelphia rowhouse is a creature of habit. He insists on having his pillows fluffed and a bay-window view of his surroundings.

And Philadelphia Zoo officials responded, doing their darndest Friday to make Corona, who they say is more human than catlike, comfortable in his new home. Corona’s keepers created a replica of his former digs.

Instead of his own bedroom, he has a stall to himself.

Instead of a mattress, zookeepers laid out several layers of cushions and comforters to mimic his old bed.

Instead of looking out of a rowhouse onto a North Philadelphia back yard, he has a view of the SEPTA train tracks that run behind the zoo.

But his stall is air-conditioned, just as his old place was, and he can sleep as long as he wants, just as in the old place.

“We’re trying to slowly wean him away from what he’s used to,” said Donna Ialeggio, a zoo veterinarian. “We don’t want to completely uproot him, so he can gradually adjust to his new environment and diet. We want to make this as stress-free as possible because he has already gone through so much stress …”

On Thursday, Corona’s owner, Francisco Rodriguez, 26, was arrested by Philadelphia police after a search of his rowhouse turned up a scrawny tiger living comfortably in a third-floor bedroom outfitted with cable TV and a mattress.

Police ended up at the rowhouse after sheriff’s deputies called them and said they had seen Rodriguez walking down the street cradling the cub.

Rodriguez, a roofer, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Smith Friday on charges of violating the Endangered Species Act. Rodriguez waived a preliminary hearing and was released on a secured $10,000 bond and ordered not to leave his home between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Authorities Friday raised the possibility that there may be another tiger being kept illegally. An affidavit of probable cause states that Rodriguez purchased two tiger cubs in May in Texas for $6,000. The other cub is being sought.

“Anyone who knows the whereabouts of the second cub should contact either local police or the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Services,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Alicia M. Strohl. “It’s something we take seriously, not just for the safety of the animal, but for the safety of the community.”

While it is illegal in Philadelphia to have tigers and other exotic animals, such as lions or monkeys, as pets, it is not uncommon. Law enforcement officials said buyers find creative ways to transport the animals.

“They’ll either take it in their personal vehicle or ship it in a pet carrier with the airlines and document it as either a dog or cat or other type of domestic animal,” said Dorothy Dianna Manera, a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services who filed the criminal complaint and warrant against Rodriguez.

According to the affidavit, Rodriguez told police he transported Corona from Texas to Philadelphia by airplane in a pet carrier and declared the tiger as a dog in paperwork submitted to the airline.

The tiger was discovered undernourished and underweight after existing on a diet of chicken, police said. Zoo vets promptly placed Corona on a special horsemeatbased diet to fatten him up.

Zoo officials said the tiger had shown no signs of depression or withdrawal since his arrival and was definitely a people person.

“He’s very social and likes being around people, since that’s who he’s lived with,” said Ialeggio, the vet. “Typically, animals become uncomfortable when veterinarians go into their stalls, because we usually administer vaccinations. But not this tiger. He doesn’t hold a grudge.”

Corona, who has been completely declawed, is being kept away from other animals. His only physical contact is with his keeper. Veterinarians observe him from a distance.

“We’re trying the hands-off approach as a way to decrease his socialization,” Ialeggio said. “Frequent contact with people is another thing we’re trying to wean him off of.”

The cub, believed to be 5 to 6 months old, slept most of the afternoon Friday after a morning of listening to rock ‘n’ roll.

Zoo officials said Corona would likely stay at the zoo anywhere from several weeks to months to get him medically stable and healthy. The tiger has an injured right front paw and a bruise on the left hind paw. They are also awaiting DNA test results to confirm his breed and to ensure that he has no communicable diseases before traveling to another locale. Where he ends up is anyone’s guess at this point, zoo officials said.

“There’s no rush here,” Ialeggio said. “There’s a lot of new animal sights, sounds and smells that he’s not used to, and we’re trying to make him as comfortable as possible.”

Zoo officials said the leisurely pace was to give Corona time to figure something else out.

“He needs to know what he is,” Ialeggio said. “We’re trying to get him to become more of a tiger and less of a person.”

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