Endangered Sumatran Tiger Dead After Failed Breeding Introduction

An endangered female Sumatran tiger named Kirana died on Tuesday morning at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium after a failed breeding introduction, zoo officials said. Members of the staff and social media commenters are "devastated" by the loss.

The pairing of six-year-old Kirana and two-year-old Raja took place over several months, the zoo said in a press release on Monday.

"Keepers moved the two near each other so they had visual and smell access while still being physically separated by a mesh door and then closely monitored the pair, looking for 'chuffing,' fence-rubbing, and other positive signs that they were attracted to and comfortable with each other," the release said.

When the team determined that Kirana and Raja were ready to meet physically, keepers removed the mesh barrier between them. But things went horribly wrong.

Once it was obvious that Kirana was in danger, the keepers distracted Raja and separated the tigers.

"The veterinary and animal care teams immediately addressed Kirana's life-threatening injuries, providing supportive care and closely monitoring her around-the-clock over the weekend," the zoo said.

Though her health appeared to improve on Sunday, she finally succumbed to her injuries on Tuesday morning. A necropsy revealed "substantial trauma," as well as a bacterial infection.

"When tigers breed, it's natural for them to spar with each other and there is typically some level of aggression," said Dr. Karen Goodrowe, the zoo's general curator. "This level of aggression was far beyond what we would expect with tiger introductions."

According to the World Wildlife Fund, Sumatran tigers — also known as Sunda tigers — are critically endangered, and fewer than 400 individuals are believed to remain in the wild today. Habitat loss and poaching are the biggest threats to the species

National Geographic reported that the "expansion of palm oil plantations was the primary driver behind a nearly 20 percent loss in Sumatran tiger habitat between 2000 and 2012," as well as loss of prey due to deforestation. Additionally, tiger bones are big on the black market, as some wealthy Chinese believe that an elixir called tiger bone wine will "impart characteristics of the tiger to the drinker."

Sumatran tigers are bred in captivity in an effort to protect the species from extinction. But only 77 Sumatran tigers live in North American zoos, said the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium.

"The loss of Kirana is a tragedy for our zoo family, our community, and our world," said Point Defiance Zoo Director Alan Varsik in the zoo's release. "With just a few Sumatran tigers left on this earth, we need to do everything we possibly can to help them survive."

"We're devastated by the loss of a very special tiger and by the loss to the tiger population as a whole," Goodrowe added.

Social media commenters were heartbroken over the news as well.

"How heartbreaking! Condolences to all who loved and cared for this beautiful creature. RIP Kirana," said Instagram commenter slori49.

"Im [sic] going to miss Kirana. She always knew how to pose for guests and remind us all thats [sic] she's the pretty one," added Instagram user bfd.png. "Thank you Asia keepers for giving her an enriching life and letting her teach us about tigers. Rest in Peace, Kirana. Know you were loved."

Three other tigers inhabit the zoo's Asian Forest Sanctuary with Raja: Bandar, Kali and Indah.

Sumatran tiger
An endangered female Sumatran tiger named Kirana died on Tuesday morning at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium after a failed breeding introduction. africandesigns/iStock