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Utah's Hogle Zoo
Kazek, a 14-year-old Amur tiger at Utah's Hogle Zoo, died Friday, June 8, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — The day after Utah's Hogle Zoo celebrated the birth of a new baby zebra, zoo workers mourned the passing of a "kingpin" of one of the most popular exhibits.

Kazek, a tiger much-loved by staff and admired by community members who visited the zoo, died, zoo staff announced Friday.

The 14-year-old Amur tiger hadn't been his usual self for a few days. On Thursday, he began to "deteriorate rapidly," according to a statement released by the zoo Friday. An animal autopsy showed that Kazek had an inflamed gastrointestinal tract and a mass growing in his duodenum, the statement said.

Utah's Hogle Zoo
Kazek, a 14-year-old Amur tiger at Utah's Hogle Zoo, died Friday, June 8, 2018.

"The zoo business is a tough one. It's just like when we decide to bring a pet home, you know, we love these pets with everything we have in us. And we do know that we're always on borrowed time," Erica Hansen, community relations coordinator for Hogle Zoo, told the Deseret News.

"He was brought in when the (Asian Highland) exhibit opened, and there's just nothing more impressive than a big male tiger. And he was just really remarkable, and really a captivating animal to spend time with," she said.

"We all have favorites and we all spend time with them in various ways, and so it's definitely a loss that will be felt for a long time," Hansen added.

Hansen said that the loss is difficult for those at the zoo, especially the animal keepers, because "they spend more time with these animals than they do their own pets at home or their spouse even. … And so it's just a constant roller coaster for us of emotions."

At nearly 15 years old, Kazek was considered a "senior animal," his age in tiger years similar to that of an 80-year-old man, according to zoo staff.

Utah's Hogle Zoo
Kazek, a 14-year-old Amur tiger at Utah's Hogle Zoo, died Friday, June 8, 2018.

In 2008, Kazek was bred with another tiger, and they produced three cubs that were sent to other zoos for breeding, according to the statement.

Cela, who shared the Asian Highland exhibit with Kazek, will stay in the exhibit. At age 15, she is also a senior animal and, like Kazek, has inflammatory bowel disease.

Though she's lost her companion, Hansen said that she should get by since "tigers are solitary in the wild."

"A lot of people get concerned because we like to put our human emotion of loneliness on the animals, and really living alone is what tigers prefer," she said.

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In the future, it is possible the Hogle Zoo will get other tigers, though "it's not necessarily all our decision," the community relations coordinator explained.

The zoo belongs to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which works with the Species Survival Plan, which is like "a big computer dating service for animals" that decides where they should be sent to help preserve species, Hansen said.

"We definitely want to stay in the tiger business, so that's certainly our first wish," Hansen said.