Brytne, a popular 13-year-old Sumatran Tigress was tragically mauled to death by her breeding partner, 3-year-old Harimau Kayu at the Toronto Zoo on Thursday after a courtship that began promisingly.
According to zoo officials, it happened so quickly that before the two could be separated Brytne had died of a crushed larynx. The incident illustrated the risks in handling wild feline animals, especially pairing for mating. In the weeks before, the two had showed signs of accepting each other, but in a fight that lasted only a few seconds Brytne was killed.
The Toronto Sun reported that zoo keepers tried to break the fight by making loud banging noises but by the time Harimau had been secured in a separate holding area Brytne had sustained fatal injury.
According to Maria Franke, curator of mammals at the Toronto Zoo, “The keepers put them together this morning and they had a spat. It can just happen so quickly, the power of these animals...There was nothing that was not done properly here...this is just really bad luck. It’s (part of) dealing with wild animals."
The two were gradually introduced to each other over a period of six months. The familiarization process began with the two placed in adjacent spaces where they could see each other through a fence. Then they were brought together in a controlled space where they nuzzled and headbutted and made noises indicative of mutual acceptance. All contact was supervised.
The Toronto Sun reports Franke explained: "We base how they react between a barrier and see if it’s positive or negative and we do that very slowly over months to see how the behaviour is. Everything was lining up, they’ve been chuffing to each other – which is a greeting sound – and head butting.”
The zoo keepers were shocked at the death of Brytne who had lived in the zoo since 1999 and was a favorite with the keepers. According to Franke, “The keepers who were with them on a daily basis, they’re pretty shaken up. It’s never easy...you get very close with the animals in your care. It’s sad.”
The Toronto Star reports that the 3-year-old Harimau Kayu, whose name translates "Tiger Woods," was donated by the San Diego Wild Animal Park in June. He had no previous history of violence and had come with a Species Survival Plan breeding recommendation. The Toronto Star reports that was the first mating attempt for Harimau Kayu called "Harry" by zoo keepers.
The average life expectancy of a Sumatran tiger in captivity is 10 to 15 years. Fights between tigers are rare and only 10 deaths from fighting between breeding mates have ever been reported in North America.
Sumatran tiger are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Only about 300 to 500 remain in the wild with 71 captive in North America.
Zoo officials plan to pair Harry with another female.