Rare tiger kills match on first date in London Zoo

Zookeepers at the London Zoo were hoping to introduce this rare Sumatran tiger, named Asim, to their resident tiger, as part of a Europe-wide conservation programme for the endangered subspecies but he killed the female tiger instead.
Zookeepers at the London Zoo were hoping to introduce this rare Sumatran tiger, named Asim, to their resident tiger, as part of a Europe-wide conservation programme for the endangered subspecies but he killed the female tiger instead.PHOTO: ZSL LONDON ZOO/ FACEBOOK

LONDON • The courtship went on for 10 whole days. They were kept apart, but tantalisingly close so that each could see, hear and smell the other.

When the matchmakers believed that the time and place were right - on Friday at London Zoo - the rare Sumatran tiger called Asim and a female named Melati were put in the same enclosure to be potential mates.

He promptly killed her - moments after they were introduced for the first time.

The animals' handlers scrambled in vain to intervene, the zoo said, "using loud noises, flares and alarms to try and distract the pair, but Asim had already overpowered Melati".

Keepers were eventually able to shepherd Asim into a separate paddock so they could safely get to Melati, the zoo said.

Vets then confirmed she had died.

"Everyone at ZSL London Zoo is devastated by the loss of Melati, and we are heartbroken by this turn of events," the zoo said.

Melati was 10 and had been a longtime resident of the zoo.

Asim, aged seven, arrived from Ree Park Safari in Denmark on Jan 29.

Head tiger keeper Kathryn Sanders described Asim as "a handsome, confident cat who is known for being very affectionate with the ladies in his life", adding "we're hoping he'll be the perfect mate for our beautiful Melati".

The match was organised as part of a Europe-wide conservation programme for Sumatran tigers, an endangered subspecies.

The Sumatran tiger is found in the wild only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and the World Wide Fund for Nature says fewer than 400 exist today, down from about 1,000 in 1978.

The zoo was optimistic about the two animals getting along, initially saying: "It's early days but we've already seen some good signs - there has been lots of 'chuffing', which is a happy sound they make to let each other know they have good intentions. It's fantastic to see that they're interested in each other already."

But things went horribly awry.

The tigers were placed in the same enclosure after careful monitoring, the zoo said, and experts felt it was the right time.

"As with all big cats, introductions, however carefully planned, are always considered to be high risk," the zoo said.

The animals were initially cautious, but then the introduction "quickly escalated into a more aggressive interaction".

The tiger section was shut on Friday and keepers were focused on caring for Asim - whose name "means protector in Arabic".

The zoo, in London's Regent's Park, houses more than 20,000 animals. It describes itself as the world's oldest scientific zoo, is estimated to receive more than one million visitors each year and has seen tragedy before.

In 2017, a fire broke out in the Animal Adventure section, killing a nine-year-old aardvark named Misha and leaving some staff members suffering from smoke inhalation. Half a petting zoo and a gift shop and cafe were destroyed, according to the London Fire Brigade. Four missing meerkats were presumed dead.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2019, with the headline 'Rare tiger kills match on first date'. Print Edition | Subscribe