Earning her stripes

16:00, Jan 17 2013
CLOSE ENCOUNTER: Auckland Zoo keeper Sue Mills feeds milk to Sumatran tiger Molek.

Sue Mills is doing what she can to save the world's critically endangered Sumatran tigers.

The 29-year-old from Okura is a keeper working with carnivores at Auckland Zoo - including Sumatran tiger family Oz, Molek and son Berani. There are roughly 400 left in the wild.

But the species has grown in numbers, she says.

She travelled to Sumatra's Kerinci Seblat National Park with 21st Century Tiger conservation group to track tigers, poachers and the snares they set.

After an eight-hour taxi ride to the park, Mrs Mills set out with her team on a five-day trek through dense bush. She was only allowed to take bedding, rice, two pots and a tarpaulin.

The group did not see any tigers but encountered a few leeches, Mrs Mills says.


In one hour they removed 52 snares aimed at capturing birds, deer and tigers.

"You just think ‘gosh if we weren't there those snares would still be there' so putting more patrol units in there would be so beneficial for tigers and other species."

Back at home, Mrs Mills helps raise money to send to the tiger conservation programme through a special breakfast with the tigers and behind the scenes tours.

"They're amazing animals, very intelligent. You've always got to be thinking one step ahead of them. Working with them is just so special."

Auckland Zoo sponsors a patrol unit at the national park and has donated a vehicle. Proceeds from entry fees are also donated.

North Shore Times