London Zoo workers and visitors were devastated Friday after popular Sumatran tiger Melati was killed by a new male picked to be her mate. Melati, 10, was fatally mauled when she was introduced to the 7-year-old male, Asim, who had been brought to the zoo just 10 days ago from a Danish Safari Park, the BBC reported.
The two spent days within sight of each other but in separate adjacent enclosures so they could get used to each other. They had shown “obvious positive signs,” and zookeepers believed the time was right to introduce the animals, said a statement by the zoo.
The big cats were initially cautious but the meeting quickly became aggressive.
“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,” the zoo statement said.
“Zookeepers were eventually able to secure Asim in a separate paddock so that they could safely get to Melati where our vets confirmed that she had sadly died.”
As with “all big cats, introductions, however carefully planned, are always considered to be high risk,” the zoo said.
Staff members are “heartbroken by this turn of events,” officials said.
After Asim — whose name, ironically, means “protector” in Arabic — arrived at the zoo last month, head tiger keeper Kathryn Sanders described him as “a handsome, confident cat who is known for being very affectionate with the ladies in his life. We’re hoping he’ll be the perfect mate for our beautiful Melati.”
The zoo’s previous male, Jae Jae fathered seven cubs with Melati, but he was moved to a French zoo last month.
The Sumatran tiger is classified as critically endangered, and there are believed to be only 300 in the wild.
They can live 20 years in captivity.
Asim was moved to ZSL London Zoo as part of the European-wide conservation breeding program.