Could a tiger matchmaking tragedy have been avoided?
LONDON – Staff members at London Zoo were “heartbroken” after a high-risk matchmaking operation involving two rare Sumatran tigers went horribly wrong Friday. The male’s deadly mauling of the female tiger soon after they met drew an outpouring of reactions on social media.
But one question was paramount: Could the tragedy have been avoided?
The animals had been paired as possible mates as part of a Europeanwide conservation effort for the critically endangered subspecies. Asim – age 7 and “a handsome, confident cat who is known for being very affectionate with the ladies in his life,” the zoo had said – had been shipped in from Denmark to meet Melati, a fellow Sumatran who had lived for years at the renowned zoo in Regent’s Park in Central London. He courted her for 10 days in a separate enclosure, the zoo said – “chuffing” at her and getting used to her sight and scent. Then he finally approached her.
Shocked and grieving social media users questioned London Zoo’s methods:
Was it too soon for the two wildcats to meet?
Why didn’t keepers use tranquilizers when the encounter turned violent?
And why not use other methods, such as reproductive biotechnologies, to try to increase the population of a subspecies whose numbers have shrunk in the wild?
“This death is on you,” Gal Hazor, a pop culture writer, said in a tweet Saturday. “You brought a tiger to an unnatural environment, and introduced him to another tiger less than two weeks later.”
Helen Goss, a social media manager, also wrote on Twitter: “Why on Earth would you introduce two tigers after only 10 days!?”
“I wouldn’t introduce my cat to a new cat in such a short time,” she added, calling the approach “unbelievable” and “cruel.”
The zoo said Friday that it had taken every precaution before the pairing, and that experts had judged the time right for the introduction.