A rare Sumatran tigress kept at a London zoo was killed on Friday by its potential mate, moments after being introduced.
Keepers at Zoological Society of London (ZSL) had hoped to find a “perfect mate” for beloved 10-year-old resident Melati, and brought 7-year-old male tiger Asim from a Danish park on Jan. 30 as part of a breeding program to save the species from extinction.
The two tigers were initially kept in adjoining enclosures, where they could see, smell, and react to each other before being brought together, according to ZSL.
On Friday, after zoo experts observed “positive signs” regarding their reactions to each other, the adjoining door separating the two tigers was opened to allow them to meet. Asim approached Melati and, as expected by keepers, the two tigers were initially cautious.
“Their introduction began as predicted, but quickly escalated into a more aggressive interaction,” ZSL said in a statement. “Zoo staff immediately implemented their prepared response, using loud noises, flares and alarms to try and distract the pair, but Asim had already overpowered Melati.”
Zookeepers were eventually able to secure Asim in a separate paddock so that they could safely get to Melati, but vets confirmed that she had died.
Melati had three litters with a former mate, Jae Jae. The ZSL said five of her cubs survived to adulthood and have since been rehoused across Europe.
When Asim, whose name means ‘Protector’ in Arabic, arrived at ZSL, he was heralded by the zoo as “a handsome, confident cat who is known for being very affectionate with the ladies in his life,” by the zoo.
The Sumatran tiger, which naturally lives in the forests and jungles of Sumatra, Indonesia, is classified as critically endangered and is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list of threatened animals.
Experts had said it was important that tigers such as Melati were 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.
“Everyone at ZSL London Zoo is devastated by the loss of Melati, and we are heartbroken by this turn of events,” the zoo said.