A rare Siberian tiger that was moved from Quebec to Edmonton’s Valley Zoo last year has apparently been missing one of the biggest comforts of home – the French language.

Zoo staff in Edmonton say the magnificent 300-pound tiger called Boris responds better to French than to the English most commonly heard in Alberta. The zoo is now urging French-speakers to visit Boris so he can hear the language he so appreciates.

“He was being aloof most of the time, but as soon as he heard the French language, he came over to the bars,” said Dean Triechel, the zoo’s operations supervisor.

Boris first arrived at the Valley Zoo last May after spending the first seven years of his life at the Granby Zoo in Quebec. He was unresponsive upon his arrival, but when Ginette Heppelle, a native French speaker who works at the zoo, visited his enclosure area a few days later, she called out to him in French and the response was immediate.

“He just got up from the back of his enclosure and walked over to the fence, so that’s when one of the keepers said that he responded to me because I spoke to him in French. That’s where it all started,” said Heppelle.

She points out that Boris’s new surroundings probably made the giant cat as uncomfortable as anything else, but still thinks it could be comforting for Boris to hear his “native tongue.”

“If anything, it will just remind him of home and it will probably make him feel pretty good,” she said.

Joseph Stookey, a professor in the department of large animal clinical sciences at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatchewan, doubts the tiger would appreciate hearing French words from the public. He also notes that changes in the tiger’s physical environment would probably have the biggest impact on his comfort level.

“You can imagine all of the conversations that people have around that enclosure, and I don’t think the tiger would put that together in any kind of meaningful way,” he said. “The animal knows it’s in a strange place and it’s going to feel that way for a long time … (Language) is going to be a small part of this great, big unfamiliar picture for the animal.”

Triechel, the zoo’s operations manager, admits he’s just as keen to have people learn more about the Siberian tiger as he is about having them speak French to Boris. Siberian tigers are an endangered species, and it is estimated there are less than 500 left in the world today.

Boris is part of the Species Survival Plan program, which organizes managed breeding programs for some animals facing extinction.