Tiga Tahun, a female Malayan tiger owned by Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, was killed by a male tiger at the San Diego Zoo after the animals were introduced for breeding purposes.
The male unexpectedly turned violent and attacked the female, which had never been in Omaha despite the zoo's ownership.
Zookeepers were unable to separate the two, and Tiga Tahun died of neck injuries and breathing difficulties on Saturday.
No zoo visitors saw the attack.
Dan Cassidy, general curator at the Omaha zoo, said it loaned Tiga Tahun's mother, Berapi, to the Bronx Zoo for breeding. Tiga Tahun was born there in 2009 and was sent to the San Diego Zoo in January.
The incident shows how risky breeding wild animals can be, especially big cats, Cassidy said.
The business of mating can be a long, involved process, starting with a “howdy” situation, where the animals can see each other but not interact. Zookeepers must judge how fast to push the process along and when the female is in heat, because the male often is more accepting of her then.
The process can seem to be going well, but even with every precaution, “everything can go south” in the blink of an eye, Cassidy said.
“We have every confidence in the San Diego Zoo staff,” Cassidy said, adding that he was sure they followed steps similar to those the Omaha zoo follows.
The Henry Doorly Zoo ensures there are multiple exits for the big cats and that keepers are standing by. They have a hose to spray water on the animals and even a fire extinguisher if they become too aggressive.
“Just a puff (of the fire extinguisher) can distract them enough that the underdog can escape,” Cassidy said.
Employees usually can tell when it's not going to work out, but not always, he said.
The Omaha zoo had a similar situation with Amur leopards in 2012. The first male the zoo introduced to a female they hope to breed didn't click with her. Luckily, another male is here now, and he and the female get along well.
“They are together all the time now,” Cassidy said.
Experienced cats typically know what is expected of them in breeding and do what is needed, Cassidy said.
“It's the first-timers ... you have to wait and see what they will do.”
Unfortunately, the male tiger at the San Diego Zoo now will have a reputation to overcome, Cassidy said. Zoos may not be eager to test that animal's acceptance of their females.
“Breeding big cats takes a lot of fortitude,” he said.