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(US MD) One woman's story: Saving the tigers August 13, 2005 8:36 AM

By Sheilah Kaufman
Special to The Examiner
Published: Friday, August 12, 2005 9:24 PM EDT
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Zsuzsi Zetlin, here in her home office, has dedicated herself to preserving wild tigers. Since 1996 she has been a board member and events co-ordinator for Texas based Tiger Missing Link Foundation (TMLF). Jay Westcott/Examiner

During my first meeting with Zsuzsi Zetlin (a friend introduced us), she began to talk about tigers and proceeded to give me the Tiger Quiz. The answers left me feeling sick. I asked if there was anything I could do to help and that was the beginning of my fascination with tigers, my friendship with Zetlin and Tiger Missing Link.

Zetlin was born in Budapest, Hungary, far from tigers and very far from the United States. At a young age she became her country's "sweetheart," a national rhythmic gymnastics champion, which quickly taught her that only through hard work, discipline and courage can you accomplish your dreams. She was born with an "Audrey Hepburn syndrome," as she calls it, a constant need to help, to generate her energy toward a good cause she believed in with all her heart.

She fell in love with tigers at age 4 when she first saw them perform at a circus.

Zetlin has dedicated herself to preserving wild tigers. Since 1996, she has been a board member and events coordinator for Texas-based Tiger Missing Link Foundation. Every year she organizes a fundraiser in the Washington area to educate people about endangered species and to make people aware of human impact on the tiger population - from the use of tiger parts in Chinese medicine to the role of genetics in preservation of the individual tiger subspecies.

Today Zsuzsi tries to maintain her perfect-10 stamina through her business, Body by Zsuzsi fitness/dance aerobics, and through coaching rhythmic gymnastics. She has two daughters, Sherri, 19, and Julie, 15, and is convinced that her charity work for animals profoundly affected her daughters. Like their mother, they love and respect animals, and at the end of the year the family always visits shelters and gives donation or food.

"People always ask me, 'Why do you care about tigers?' " Zetlin said. "It's not a matter of liking one animal more than another. ... I'm just a real cat person."

"We have two cats at home, Chico and Creamy. To have the love of an animal is a privilege, and that is to know unconditional love," she said. "We all agree about that in our family."

Julie is ranked No. 1 on the U.S. Junior National Team for rhythmic gymnastics. Zsuzsi says her daughter hopes to make it to the 2008 Olympics and "she often jokes that if she becomes a famous star one day, she will contribute a huge amount of money to tiger conservation and to other animals' protection. A dream worth living for!"

TMLF is a nonprofit organization funded entirely by private donations and is the only non-governmental organization working to bring together groups such as the American Zoological Association, accredited zoos and serious private sector breeders to preserve the rapidly disappearing subspecies of tigers by providing DNA testing and maintaining a genetic data base. TMLF also supports the Texas-based Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge as well. This is a much-needed facility where the foundation can house unwanted, abused, neglected and/or surplus animals.

TMLF is trying to work against private ownership of big cats as pets. People buy lion or tiger cubs and while they are in the "cub" stage they are very cute, but then they grow up and problems begin, as they inadvertently destroy property and develop many health problems due to improper nutrition and claw problems.

Part of the problem is that each state has a different law or regulation regarding the ownership of exotic animals. TMLF's target is largely the Midwestern states, since they have few laws supporting animal welfare. Maryland actually has some of the strictest laws for animal welfare.

On, you can find the story of Nala. It is a horrible example of what happens to a lion that is brought home for a boy's 14th birthday. Due to family problems, the boy begins to beat the cat with a baseball bat, starve and neglect it. By the time it is blind, there is no shelter for the animal rights group to take the animal to. No one wanted her in the condition she was in. She was sold to a farm that hosted "canned hunts," where people pay to hunt and kill wild animals.

"We need to work on promoting legislation to stop this kind of treatment and abuse of innocent animals," Zetlin said.

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 August 13, 2005 8:37 AM

"We need to work on promoting legislation to stop this kind of treatment and abuse of innocent animals," Zetlin said. "As the most intelligent, thoughtful stewards of our planet, we have the power to shape the future."

Tiger quiz

Q. How many tigers are left in the wild? A. 4,000

Q. How much does a baby tiger cub cost? A. $1,000

Q. How much does a 6-month-old tiger cub cost? A. $250

Q. How much does a poached tiger cub cost? A. $50,000

Q. Where do they live? A. The largest wild tiger populations are in India, Nepal and Siberia, but the cats are now extinct in many countries where they used to live. Tigers are an endangered species - three subspecies are extinct and there are only five remaining subspecies left.

Q. Are pet tigers or lions regulated like dogs and cats are? A. There are 12 states that have zero regulations for having a tiger or lion.


On Sept. 24, the Tiger Missing Link Foundation will host its 10th Anniversary Benefit "Stripes Du Soleil" from 4:30 to 9 p.m. at the Bolger Conference Center in Potomac. This carnival-style event will benefit TMLF's conservation, education and big cat rescue programs.

Tickets are $50 for adults, $20 for children ages 8 to 17, and children age 7 and younger are free. Contact Zsuzsi Zetlin for more information at 301-524-6011 or

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