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Virus kills 7th big cat at sanctuary

Tacoma, a 13-year-old Siberian tiger, in his enclosure at InSync Exotics animal preserve in Wylie, Texas in March.

John L. Mone/AP, file

Tacoma, a 13-year-old Siberian tiger, in his enclosure at InSync Exotics animal preserve in Wylie, Texas in March.

WYLIE, Texas — A Siberian tiger described as the ‘‘soul’’ of a North Texas animal sanctuary became the seventh big cat to die during an outbreak of a fatal virus, a spokeswoman for the refuge said Monday.

Tacoma, who was 13 years old and weighed in excess of 400 pounds, died Sunday night at In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Education Center in the Dallas suburb of Wylie. Spokeswoman Lisa Williams said Tacoma was the sixth tiger killed by canine distemper. A lioness also has died.

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More than a dozen other big cats also have the virus. Experts believe raccoons probably started the outbreak by crawling around the large outdoor cages that house more than 50 lions, tigers, cougars, bobcats, and other cats.

An emotional Williams said the death of Tacoma is difficult because he had been with the sanctuary for more than a dozen years and had bonded with founder Vicky Keahey and other workers.

He was recovering from surgery to both hips in March when the outbreak was discovered in May.

‘‘This is a particularly devastating loss,’’ Williams said.

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