Aasha, a Bengal tiger, was 9 months old when she first came to the attention of a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspector. At only 30 pounds, however, she was closer to the size of a 3-month old.
The neglected cub belonged to a traveling circus, sharing a cage with a large adult tiger who bullied her. That was when the USDA inspector contacted Vicky Keahey, founder of Texas's In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Educational Center. He wanted to transfer Aasha to Keahey's care.
When Keahey first met Aasha, she realized that—in addition to being underweight and generally neglected—the poor tigress also suffered from ringworm.
"Aasha's bald spots covered almost her entire body and her skin was dry [with] cracked, darken areas and bleeding," Keahey told The Dodo. She also had open wounds, which Keahey assumed were bite marks from the larger tiger she lived with. Aasha was quickly taken to an isolated enclosure at In-Sync Exotics.
"Every day, twice a day, I would go in and give Aasha medications and spend time with her," Keahey said. "I knew I was going to have to handle her in order to get her well." Aasha also received a special medicated bath daily.The previously mistreated tiger was terrified of water, which made Keahey's job more than a little challenging.
"After eight weeks of treatments you could see little bits of fuzz growing back to [what once] bald spots," Keahey said.
"By the time the treatments were over, Aasha loved the water so I put a small tub in [her enclosure] for her to splash in," she said.
Under Keahey's loving care, Aasha grew and thrived. Although she was now too large for Keahey to sit in her enclosure with her, she and Aasha still enjoyed spending time together—especially when Keahey would give her a good soaking with a hose.
"Within eight months she looked like a real tiger, and it was time to see how she would react to other tigers," Keahey said.
"We loaded her up and put her right next door to Smuggler. He went crazy for her and was always showing off for her."
Smuggler was nearly three times Aasha's size, but the instant bond between them was undeniable.
They got to know each other better through supervised playdates, until it was deemed safe to move them into an enclosure together.
Today, Aasha and Smuggler are the very best of furiends." Aasha is still about half Smuggler's size, but he knows when to steer clear of her," Keahey says.
Aasha's grown from a sickly tiger cub — a victim of mistreatment and neglect — to a playful, confident adult tiger. And, as fate would have it, her favorite thing in the world is the thing that used to scare her most: