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“Tiger Woods” has mauled his mate to death.
For months, a three-year-old male Sumatran tiger – Harimau Kayu – imported from the San Diego Wild Animal Park in June for a breeding program seemed to be getting along with Brytne, a 13-year-old female tiger. But on Thursday morning when the pair were put in the same space together, Harimau Kayu lunged at the female in a fight, crushing her larynx.
In Indonesian, Harimau Kayu’s name literally translates to “Tiger Wood,” however San Diego zookeepers named the endangered animal after golfer Tiger Woods.
“They were doing really well,” Maria Franke, curator of mammals at the Toronto Zoo. “He just grabbed her by the neck and it was over within seconds.”
When zookeepers saw the fight erupt, they dispelled empty carbon-dioxide containers and made loud banging noises to split the two up. When they separated the male into the holding area, it was already too late.
The tigers had been reacting positively to a “howdy door” – having contact through a mesh barrier – since October as part of the Species Survival Program.
“We base how they react between a barrier and see if it’s positive or negative and we do that very slowly over months to see how the behaviour is,” Franke said. “Everything was lining up, they’ve been chuffing to each other – which is a greeting sound – and head butting.”
Harimau Kayu was not injured in the scuffle, Franke said.
The Sumatran tigers are listed as critically endangered and only 300 to 500 of these animals exist in the world. In North America alone, there are just 71.
In North America, Franke said there have been 10 reports of mauling involving different species of tigers.
Brytne gave birth to two litters with another male tiger, Rengat, who was put down at the zoo from kidney failure at the age of 17. Their cubs, Kali and Indah were donated to a zoo in Japan last winter.
“It’s a very sad day for us with Brytne but we feel at least her genetics were able to be passed on for the survival of the species,” Franke said.
The zoo will conduct an autopsy and the tiger’s ovaries will be collected for reproduction research.
This is the third tiger to die at the zoo since 2010. Tonghua, a 17-year-old Siberian tiger died in February 2010 from cancer.
The Toronto Zoo has come under fire in recent years with the imminent departure of their elephants, Thika, Toka and Iringa, to a California animal sanctuary.
In the spring, a polar bear cub was attacked and killed by its mother in October and Nokanda, a 15-year-old lioness was euthanized in August due to declining health. Four elephants have died since 2006 at the zoo as well as an orangutan in 2010.
On top of that, there’s the uncertainty over its future ownership and the raising of admission prices in peak season to reduce its budget by 10% that have added to the zoo’s shaky image.
But Franke said she doesn’t see this as another blow to the zoo.
“There was nothing that was not done properly here,” she said. “The keepers are the heroes in this situation, they acted promptly. This is just really bad luck. The keepers that work with the animals on a daily basis are pretty shaken up and it’s never easy.”
Harimau Kayu will continue to stay at the zoo and keepers are looking at trying to find another mate for him.
“We’ll then proceed to get another breeding recommendation with another genetically-good matched female for this male,” Franke said. “This doesn’t mean he’s a bad tiger, he’s just a tiger. It’s the nature of the beast, they’re tigers and it’s survival of the fittest.”
Instead of seeing the obvious: ie: that tigers are solitary creatures and should not be forced to cohabit in the tiny confines of a zoo, this zoo is looking for another female to try and produce income generating cubs. Big cats do not belong in cages. Tragedies like this should make that clear.