Sumatran tiger killed at London Zoo by potential mate

A 10-year-old female Sumatran tiger was killed Feb. 8 at ZSL London Zoo when she was introduced to a 7-year-old male.

A male Sumatran tiger named Asim attacked and killed Melati, a female of the same subspecies, shortly after he was allowed to enter her enclosure Feb. 8 at ZSL London Zoo.

Zookeepers had kept the two tigers in adjacent enclosures separated by a closed door for 10 days so they could get used to each other. ZSL, short for the Zoological Society of London, had hoped the pair would eventually breed, in a bid to help save the Sumatran subspecies (Panthera tigris sumatrae).

But shortly after keepers opened the door between them Friday morning, Asim had “overpowered” Melati before the zoo’s staff could intervene.

“Everyone at ZSL London Zoo is devastated by the loss of Melati,” ZSL said in a statement.

The 7-year-old Asim arrived in London on Jan. 29 from Ree Safari Park in Denmark, the same day that Jae Jae, a male that had been living at ZSL London Zoo, was sent to Le Parc des Félins, a zoo in France. It was part of a conservation breeding project called the European Endangered Species Programme. Fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers, the smallest tiger subspecies, live in the wild on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Habitat loss, poaching and the disappearance of their prey have cut their numbers from around 1,000 in the late 1970s, according to the WWF, and they’ve been listed as critically endangered by the IUCN since 1996.

Conservation scientists hope that successful captive-breeding programs, like the one that brought about the transfers of Asim and Jae Jae, can brighten the subspecies’ prospects.

“[I]t’s important that tigers like Jae Jae and Melati are given the opportunity to have cubs with other mates — to ensure genetic diversity across the world’s zoos and ultimately safeguard the future of the species,” Jo Cook, a conservation biologist at ZSL and the European Endangered Species Programme coordinator for Sumatran tigers, said in a January statement.

At first, it seemed as if Melati and Asim would be a good match. According to the BBC, Melati had three litters of cubs since 2013, all fathered by Jae Jae. And Melati and Asim had been “chuffing,” a sort of nasal snort that’s typically a non-threatening greeting or sign of interest, Kathryn Sanders, the head tiger keeper at ZSL London Zoo, said in the January statement.

Asim also had a good reputation, Sanders said. He’s “a handsome, confident cat who is known for being very affectionate with the ladies in his life — we’re hoping he’ll be the perfect mate for our beautiful Melati,” she added.

But shortly after the two cautiously approached each other, the encounter “quickly escalated,” ZSL said. The organization reported that staff members were ready, setting off alarms and flares in the hopes that the distracting noises would force the two tigers apart. But by the time they could get Asim into a separate paddock to allow veterinarians to attend to Melati safely, she had died.

ZSL said its staff members were “heartbroken by this turn of events,” despite understanding that the outcomes of such encounters are difficult to predict.

“As with all big cats, introductions, however carefully planned, are always considered to be high risk,” the organization said.

The Sunday Times reported Feb. 10 that zoo staff were looking for a new mate for Asim.

Banner image of a Sumatran tiger at Tierpark Berlin by Captain Herbert via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Citation

Linkie, M., Wibisono, H.T., Martyr, D.J. & Sunarto, S. (2008). Panthera tigris ssp. sumatrae. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T15966A5334836. Downloaded on 10 February 2019.

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