They expected the animals – a male and a female – to warm up to each other and even perhaps make love. But zookeepers at London Zoo watched in horror as an endangered Sumatran tiger was mauled to death on Friday, just moments after it was introduced to a potential partner for the first time.
Melati, a female tiger and long-term resident of the zoo, was introduced to a new male tiger, Asim, on Friday in the hope the pair would breed in the future.
Keepers were devastated, however, when Asim, a seven-year-old male that had arrived at the London Zoo (ZSL) just 10 days earlier, fatally attacked Melati, reports CNN.
"Everyone at ZSL London Zoo is devastated by the loss of Melati, and we are heartbroken by this turn of events," the zoo said in a statement.
"Asim was moved to ZSL London Zoo as part of the European-wide conservative breeding program, and it was hoped that the two tigers would be able to breed in the future."
The two tigers were initially kept in separate, adjoining enclosures, where keepers allowed the two animals to "smell and react to each other."
The zoo acknowledged that while introductions of big cats are always considered "high risk," zoo experts had observed "positive signs" and deemed it to be the "right time" to introduce the pair.
The keepers reported that the introduction of the pair started as "predicted," but it descended quickly into a "more aggressive interaction."
"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 said.