Names Test

Now pushing two months old, the latest breeding success at Wildlife World Zoo has sturdy limbs, big, clunky paws, white fur, black stripes, and wide blue eyes set in a face that would make even William F. Buckley gush. But there's one thing the young Panthera tigris tigris, a.k.a. white Bengal tiger, still lacks: a name. That's where we, the great metropolitan populace of the Valley, come in.

The cub, born on July 1, brings to five the WWZ's population of these big felines, wretchedly endangered in the wild, as are Sumatran, Siberian and all other subspecies of tiger. Four of these are white, and can thus trace their ancestry back, as can all white tigers in zoos, to a Single White Male named Mohan discovered in 1951. The publicity material insists with rather unseemly haughtiness that "White tigers are not albinos, as evidenced by their blue eyes."

This suggests that "Adolf" or "Heinrich" might be appropriate names for the cub, but perhaps we can do better, and we have the chance in the Name the White Tiger Cub Contest, which continues through Thursday, November 30. Everybody wins -- the tiglet gets to stop being called "Hey, kid" by the older tigers, and you, if your name is selected, get a weekend for two in San Diego, with two nights' lodging plus admission for two to the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld.

Entry forms are available at the menagerie's main entrance, at 16501 West Northern in Litchfield Park. No fax or e-mail entries are accepted, and only one entry per person is permitted.

No purchase is necessary to enter, but if you've never been, WWZ is worth the long haul west even without a contest. For a zoo of its size, it has a remarkable collection. Both small and large animals are presented, often with unusual ingenuity -- the giraffe paddock, permitting an eye-to-eye and hand-to-icky-long-purple-tongue encounter with these exquisite creatures, is truly thrilling. Traditional zoo fixtures like jaguars, lions, zebras, camels and marvelous rhinos make their homes there, as do spectacular birds, reptiles, a wide variety of creepy-crawlies, a splendid collection of small mammals, and peculiarly endearing "singing dogs" from New Guinea, particular favorites of mine. For the littler kids, there's a petting enclosure, an African train ride and an exotic-animal carousel. The zoo is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission is $10.95 for adults, $4.95 for kids between the ages of 3 and 12, free for kids younger. Seniors get a buck off admission on Tuesdays. For details call 623-935-WILD (935-9453).

By the way, if I were entering -- which I'm not -- here's the name I'd suggest: "Blake." You know, "Tiger, tiger, burning bright . . ."