When U.S. Department of Agriculture officials discovered little Aasha at a circus she was almost unrecognizable as a Bengal tiger. Indeed, the nine-month-old big cat weighed a tiny 30 pounds – the same weight as cubs six months her junior. Was there any way she could survive?
Adding to Aasha’s woes was that she was severely malnourished, had begun to lose her strip fur and was suffering from ringworm. But that was when Vicky Keahey, the founder of In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Education Center, stepped in.
The center, which is based in Wylie, Texas, was established in 2000 as a not-for-profit organization that looks after abused or abandoned big cats. It also organizes tours and school visits to educate people about the work it does.
When Aasha arrived at the center, Keahey was shocked to see that the creature was the same size as a healthy bobcat. She later told The Dodo, “Aasha’s bald spots covered almost her entire body and her skin was dry [with] cracked, darken areas and bleeding.”
And so Keahey made it her mission to nurse the beautiful feline back to health. In fact, the animal lover dedicated herself to Aasha’s recovery and spent time with her each and every day.
Ignoring her own safety, Keahey also started letting herself into Aasha’s enclosure in order to build a bond. “I knew I was going to have to handle her in order to get her well,” she explained to The Dodo.
The tiger further started to receive medicinal baths, but it appeared she had a fear of water. In fact, on some occasions, Keahey had to run after the cat, inside her enclosure, in order to coax her into the tub.
Aasha, however, soon settled into her new routine, and within months Keahey began to notice a change in the tiger’s health and attitude. “After eight weeks of treatments you could see little bits of fuzz growing back to [what were once] bald spots,” she said.
Amazingly, Aasha even became fond of her once-dreaded medicated baths. She started loving the water so much, in fact, that Keahey left a small bathtub within the enclosure so the tiger could splash around at her leisure.
So, after eight months under the dedicated center’s care, the animal began transforming into a happy, healthy tiger right before Keahey’s eyes. Indeed, Aasha had put on weight and started sporting a full stripy coat.
As she began to get stronger, though, Keahey turned her attention to introducing Aasha to some of the other tigers at the center. This was how Aasha met Smuggler, a male who’s around 12 months older than her.
Fortunately, a relationship blossomed. In fact, it soon became clear that Aasha and Smuggler were more than just friends. After all, the male tiger had been regularly showing off in a bid to win her affections.
Not one to stand in the way of true love, Keahey and her staff began to arrange “dates” for the two tigers. She explained how the smitten kittens would spend almost half an hour at a time nose-to-nose as they became more familiar.
Each meeting had to be supervised by a team of ten staff, for the possibility of the two tigers fighting was very real. However, things went swimmingly almost as soon as Aasha and Smuggler started sleeping in the same enclosure.
So, after her heartbreaking start in life, Aasha had finally found love. In fact, now that the animals have moved in with each other, they spend every night and mealtime together.
Heartwarmingly, March 2016 marked Aasha and Smuggler’s fourth anniversary together. Indeed, their incredible story has led Keahey and her staff to refer to the inseparable lovebirds as a “married couple.”
In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Education Center regularly shares updates about Aasha and Smuggler on its Facebook page too. It is perhaps unsurprising that their tale of true love has earned them fans all around the world.
Sadly, however, the pair will never welcome cubs of their own, as Aasha has been spayed and Smuggler neutered. Fortunately, the pair seem perfectly content with just each other for company.
And, crucially, Smuggler has, over the years, worked out how to stay on the right side of his sweetheart. Revealing the secret of their success, Keahey told The Dodo, “Aasha is still about half Smuggler’s size, but he knows when to steer clear of her.”
It’s been five years since Aasha was discovered in such a sorry state, but in the intervening years this once-little tiger has gone from strength to strength. This is one tale – or tail, perhaps – with a truly happy ending.