ZSL London Zoo emphatically defend ‘essential’ tiger breeding programme after criticism following big cat’s death

Melati, the female tiger killed by a prospective mate at ZSL London. Picture: ZSL London

Melati, the female tiger killed by a prospective mate at ZSL London. Picture: ZSL London - Credit: Archant

After its involvement in a tiger breeding programme went horribly wrong last week – and it’s 10 year old female Melati died – ZSL London Zoo has defended its involvement in the “important” job of breeding the endangered big cats.

The Regent’s Park zoo announced last week that Melati, 10, had been mauled to death by younger male tiger Asim when they were first introduced on February 8.

Now, in response to a global petition started by advocacy firm Care2 which has gained almost 35,000 signatures, the zoo’s authorities have defended the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP).

Care2’s advocacy team said: “This all just goes to show that even though the people involved had extensive experience with tigers, forcible breeding is unpredictable and can end in death.”

But ZSL pointed out that, with numbers of the endangered Sumatran tiger dwindling, breeding was actually essential to the species’ survival.

A spokesperson said: “The EEP is a tool used by zoos, aquariums and wildlife parks across Europe to manage conservation breeding programmes for a range of endangered species.

“With just 400 Critically Endangered Sumatran tigers remaining in the wild, it’s important that tigers in zoos are given the opportunity to have cubs with other mates as part of the breeding programme - to ensure genetic diversity across the world’s zoos and ultimately safeguard the future of the species.”

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Meanwhile, immediately after Melati’s death, zoo chief operating officer Kathryn England published a letter. She said: “Their role in zoos is as part of a breeding programme to form an assurance population against extinction in the wild. Because that is sadly a very real possibility.”

Kathryn added: “In the blink of an eye, with no obvious provocation, they turned on each other and our years of experience told us it was beyond normal. The initial skirmish lasted a few seconds and we were already reacting.

Melati had been a fixture at the zoo since 2013, when the tiger enclosure was first opened.

She had previously seen three cubs with her former mate Jae Jae survive to adulthood, but Jae Jae was moved to a different zoo last year as part of the EEP’s objective to ensure genetic diversity in the tiger population.