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Birthday party at zoo celebrates a tale of two tigers Children join fete for Thyme, Warner

Cakes and pinatas never last long around children celebrating a birthday.

If the kids happen to be a pair of 160-pound tiger cubs and the cake and pinata are baited with raw meat, the goodies disappear even faster. Spectators lining the Buffalo Zoo's outdoor big-cat exhibit found that out Tuesday.

Once Thyme and Warner, Amur tiger twins born a year ago, bounded from a holding area into the sun-splashed forest habitat in a blaze of orange and black stripes, they made quick work of the items set out by keepers Dan Brigham and Catherine Meyer.

Warner, the male, paused briefly with one paw atop the three-layer cake -- "iced" with cardboard -- as if posing for photographers on the other side of the fence, before ripping the top off with his already-powerful jaws and thrusting his head into the remaining dessert in search of tasty morsels.

The youngsters then took turns leaping and clawing at the pinata, shaped in the numeral one, that dangled from a pine branch about seven feet off the ground. They got it down and tore it to pieces in no time.

"You wouldn't think they were so good at jumping, but they are," observed zoo President Donna M. Fernandes.

Celebrating with the tigers from a safe distance were 19 kindergartners from Discovery School, formerly School 67, who were guests of Time Warner Cable, the cubs' sponsor.

Decked out in pointed party hats and shirts with the company logo, they brought birthday cards they had made in class after learning on the Internet about Amur tigers, a highly endangered subspecies that used to be known as Siberians.

They worked out simple rhymes for the cards, such as "You're 1, have some fun," said their teacher, Donna Kellum.

At a time when public funding is scarce, long-term support from partners like Time Warner is vital to the zoo, Fernandes said. It costs $5,000 a year to feed an adult tiger, meaning the zoo's five tigers alone will soon take a $25,000 bite out of the annual operating budget, she said.

Involving schoolchildren, she added, helps educate the public about the zoo's effort to save endangered animals.

The frolicking tigers were a welcome diversion for the cable company, locked in a dispute with the owners of Channels 4 and 23 that knocked Sunday's Buffalo Bills game from the Time-Warner lineup.

Even Discovery School parents who are Bills fans appreciated the tigers' birthday party, said Robin L. Wolfgang, a Time Warner vice president.

e-mail: tbuckham@buffnews.com

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