KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Flight cancellations have led to more than just people being delayed. After their flights were canceled, Zoo Knoxville’s Animal Care team had to drive over 2,000 miles to bring a tiger from the San Diego Zoo to its new East Tennessee home.

In early December, Zoo Knoxville’s previous female tiger, Arya, left for a new home in hopes of finding a suitable partner for reproduction. At that time, the zoo was working to bring in another female to pair with one of the two males at the zoo. This is what led the zoo to find Batari, a female Malayan tiger, in San Diego.

In January, the animal care team was planning to fly out to get Batari, then load her into a plane and fly back to Knoxville. However, due to issues related to COVID-19, staffing problems and scheduling conflicts, the flight back to Knoxville with Batari was canceled.

“Through no fault of their own, they weren’t able to honor that flight. We had already planned everything on both ends. We had permitting, done. We had quarantine ready. We had travel plans on the other end, worked out everything was worked out. So, what did we do? We flew out and we drove her back,” said Phillip Colclough, director of animal care, conservation and education.

The team rented an enclosed truck in San Diego, loaded Batari in and then set out on their journey. Colclough and Kelly Cox, the assistant director of Animal Care and the zoo’s safety director made the over 2,200-mile trip. In total, it took around 40 hours.

“Everything went well, I mean went as well as it possibly could have done. Batari was calm most of the time. We would stop periodically and feed and water her and check on her and make sure she was comfortable. We would stop for an hour and let her rest and get away from the road vibration and all of that and just kept on pushing through,” said Colclough. “It was actually pretty fun.”

Colclough says that Batari is adjusting well to Knoxville. She is quarantining right now, but within the next month or so she will go down to tiger forest and meet Bashir and Tanvir, the two male tigers.

Batari’s Road Trip to Knoxville

Malayan tigers currently have a declining population and are considered critically endangered. According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, there are around 250 in the wild and fewer than 70 in zoos around the world. This is why in 2012, the AZA’s Species Survival Plan developed the Tiger Conservation Campaign.

The campaign included programs breeding tigers, ensuring high-quality tiger protection is given to tigers in protected areas through robust ranger patrols and extensive intelligence gathering, and monitoring of tiger populations, prey populations, and habitat quality.