Exotic animal rescue Lions, Tigers and Bears announced Wednesday that the matriarch of their clan, a 19-year-old tiger named Natasha, has died.
Natasha and her late mate Raja were the first to be adopted by the Alpine-based shelter more 13 years ago, caretakers wrote in a Facebook post.
"Natasha was the epitome of the old saying 'that's one tough cookie', as she had more than her fair share of struggles over the course of her life, but always came out on top," the leaders said.
In 2002, the two young tigers were rescued from an owner in Texas who was keeping them in a 6-foot by 12-foot, chain link cage with no shade or protection from the elements.
One month after arriving in Alpine, an area in east San Diego County, Natasha gave birth to two cubs, Sitarra and Tabu. Thanks to a grant given to Lions, Tigers and Bears, the rescue’s leaders were able to build the Tiger Trails habitat with grass and a waterfall pool for the big cats.
Because she was declawed by her private owner, Natasha suffered from arthritis for most of her life, and in 2011, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. However, she made a full recovery after surgery.
Age continued to wear on the large cat. Earlier this year, Natasha had surgery to treat her glaucoma, but veterinarians soon realized they had to perform an enucleation, which meant the tiger’s right eye had to be removed, according to the caretakers.
Then two months ago, vets found a lesion in Natasha’s mouth during an oral exam. They discovered the lesion was noncancerous, but blood tests revealed signs of chronic renal disease — a common problem among aging cats.
The matriarch’s health continued to decline until Wednesday when she passed away.
“Natasha’s passing is the end of an era for LTB, but one that will live on in her remaining daughter, Tabu — and forever in our hearts,” caretakers wrote in the Facebook post. “Natasha — you will be missed by so many, our precious girl. Rest easy and run free.”
The rescue is planning a memorial, open to LTB members, family and friends, to honor the tiger.