El Paso Zoo Wants Tiger Cubs
EL PASO – Love is complicated, even for the majestic tiger.
The El Paso Zoo has two new critically endangered Malayan tigers that could form a mating pair, which could help the species’ long-term survival. Complicating matters, however, is what zoo officials are describing as a “love triangle.”
The new tigers – a male and female – arrived within the past year, and have joined a holdover tiger, a female. The new tigers, however, are being kept separately from the older one.
“The two girls don’t like each other,” said Rick LoBello, the zoo’s education curator, “and the boy likes both of the girls.”
The two new tigers are being displayed together and the holdover tiger goes out into the exhibit in the afternoon when the new ones go back to their behind-the-scenes holding area, said John Kiseda, the zoo’s animal curator.
The new tigers first went on public display together about two weeks ago.
The tiger exhibit, closed most of the week because of a plumbing problem, was scheduled to reopen this weekend.
But what zookeepers would really like is for the new pair to mate and have some cubs.
Seri, a 3-year-old female, arrived at the El Paso Zoo about a year ago. She was born at the San Diego Zoo. Her potential mate, Wzui, a 6-year-old male, arrived about six months ago. He was born at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Neb., but lived at the Tulsa, Okla., zoo.
Previously, they had to be quarantined and then were occasionally displayed individually, but not together until recently.
The two animals are on loan to the El Paso Zoo and came here under a recommendation from the Malayan Tiger Species Survival Plan.
This is a joint effort by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and its 215 members. The goal is to provide good homes for animals, make sure that zoos have their need for animals met and that there is a genetically diversified population of animals, Kiseda said.
The two new animals have joined Melor, or Meli as her trainers call her, a 15-year-old female Malayan tiger. She has been the zoo’s only tiger since 2009 when her longtime companion, Raja, was euthanized because of a cancerous growth in his abdomen.
Kiseda said the new pair “are quite compatible.”
“The older female also likes the new male, based on her behavior toward him,” he said. “But we’re not putting them all together because there’s a recommendation of not letting Meli breed.”
When the male Wzui is in an adjacent space to Meli, the older female, they might rub against each other with the enclosure mesh between them, Kiseda said. They will also vocalize through a sound called chuffing that’s a friendly big-cat sign of recognition, he added.
Wzui also shows friendly signs with the younger female and is making “headway in his reproductive efforts,” Kiseda said.
LoBello said it’s quite common for zoos to keep animals separate and then rotate them into an exhibit at different times. He cited a male Amur leopard at the zoo and his daughter. They are kept apart, so they don’t breed, he said.
Fewer than 2,500 tigers are living wild in the world. Of nine subspecies, four have already gone extinct, LoBello said. All tigers are endangered because of encroachment on their habitats and poachers.
Having the new tigers also provides zoo visitors with something new to see and is another reason to keep coming back, he said.
“We are constantly trying to upgrade our facilities, add new animals and add new programs,” LoBello said.
Erika Bailey, an assistant day-care teacher at the Armed Forces YMCA, was with a group of children on a field trip to the zoo.
She said the new tigers will help to educate children about endangered species.
“I hope they do mate; that would be awesome,” she said. “El Paso would make a big deal about it and all the kids would want to come out and see them.”
Tigers typically have two to four cubs at a time and their pregnancy duration lasts from 90 to 110 days.
David Burge may be reached at email@example.com; (915) 546-6126.