London Zoo workers and visitors were devastated Friday after popular Sumatran tiger Melati was killed by a new male picked to be her mate. Zookeepers had kept the tigers separated from each other in adjoining enclosures until they felt the animals were ready to meet.
The tragedy happened just ten days after Asim arrived at the zoo in the hope that he and Melati would help boost the dwindling numbers of the endangered big cats.
"Their introduction began as predicted but quickly escalated into a more aggressive interaction". But after they were put together for the first time in the zoo's 2,500 sq m Tiger Territory enclosure, which replicates their natural Indonesian habitat, Asim became aggressive. Zoo keepers tried to intervene with flares and loud noises as Asim attacked Melati, but they were left "heartbroken" as the stronger male ripped her apart. After their keepers saw positive signs, they decided to make the "high-risk" introduction on Friday morning.
The 10-year-old female had had three litters with her former mate, Jae Jae, and an image of her playing with one of her cubs was featured among the Guardian's photos of the day in September 2016.
Asim, who is seven years old, was brought in from Denmark on 29 January, with Jae Jae heading to a French park.
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It was a tragic end to hopes that the two would eventually breed as part of a Europe-wide tiger conservation program for the endangered Sumatran subspecies. "It's fantastic to see that they're interested in each other already".
The zoo acknowledged that while introductions of big cats are always considered "high risk", zoo experts had observed "positive signs" and deemed it to be the "right time" to introduce the pair.
It said the focus now is "caring for Asim as we get through this hard event".
Ahead of Asim's arrival, the zoo described the large cat as "handsome", "confident" and said he was "known for being very affectionate with the ladies in his life - we're hoping he'll be the ideal mate for our attractive Melati".