A 4-year-old endangered Malayan tigress died Saturday at the San Diego Zoo after her intended mate, a Malayan tiger named Connor, turned violent as they started to breed on Saturday.
Zoo officials say a necropsy revealed that Tiga Tahun’s neck was damaged when the 2-year-old male grabbed her to begin the actual breeding act. The bite severely injured her spinal cord, according to UT San Diego, preventing her from breathing and she died instantly.
Tiga Tahun was born a triplet at the Bronx Zoo in 2009 and was shipped to the Southern California zoo earlier this year.
"She had been showing signs that she was willing to breed and he had been showing signs of (wanting to as well)," zoo spokeswoman Jenny Mehlow told The News.
"The attempt to mate the animals followed several days of introductions through visual contact and smell," Mehlow said, "When zookeepers finally put the cats in the same room, however, the male...got a bit too wild."
When the animal-care staff noticed that Tiga was in distress, they sought to distract Connor, calling out to him and spraying him with water hoses, but by then it was too late, said zoo spokeswoman Christina Simmons.
The incident occurred between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. Saturday when no guests were at the zoo.
"It’s hard for us to know if he was a little too rough, there's just no way to know," Simmons. "They were friendly, she was rolling on her back, they went into the breeding act and then at some point she was injured and died."
The breeding behavior of large cats, zoo experts point out, is by its nature, aggressive and potentially dangerous. Mike Dulaney, curator of mammals at the Cincinnati Zoo and vice coordinator for the Malayan tiger species survival program, noted, "Often the male will grab the (female) by the back of the neck, which is part of breeding behavior, and sometimes you get an overzealous animal who takes it a little too far. It's the nature of the beast."
Grabbing an animal by the back of the neck also happens to be the same tactic tigers use in killing their prey; although in mating, it's clearly not meant to be lethal, Dulaney said.
It's not been decided yet whether Connor -- the San Diego Zoo's only remaining Malayan tiger -- will continue to mate, but it probably won’t be soon.
Connor is the only Malayan tiger at the zoo. They are highly valued by poachers, and only about 1,400 reportedly remain in the wild in the Malay Peninsula.