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Rare Sumatran tiger dies at Point Defiance Zoo

Kirana, the Sumatran tiger
Katie Cotterill
Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
Kirana, a 6-year-old Sumatran tiger, died Monday at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma.

One of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s female Sumatran tigers died Monday from injuries sustained during a breeding introduction.

The death of 6-year-old Kirana has been “heartbreaking” for zoo staff, particularly those who have cared for her since she was a cub, Dr. Karen Goodrowe, the zoo’s general curator, said in a news release.

“We’re devastated by the loss of a very special tiger and by the loss to the tiger population as a whole,” Goodrowe said.

Goodrowe explained that zoo took a slow approach to pairing Kirana and Raja, a 2-year-old Sumatran tiger. Keepers moved the tigers near each other so they could see and smell one another while still separated by a mesh barrier. Over several months, zoo staff monitored the pair, looking for signs of comfortability and attraction between the two.

“Finally, when Kirana was in estrus and, after more intensive monitoring, the keepers removed the mesh barrier and allowed the tigers to meet physically. When keepers saw Kirana in distress, they moved swiftly to distract Raja and separate the pair,” the zoo said in its news release.

Kirana received constant care and monitoring over the weekend from veterinarians and staff, and she seemed to be improving on Sunday, said Karen Wolf, the zoo’s head veterinarian.

“She was improving bit by bit and we were cautiously optimistic that she would pull through,” Wolf said.

But Kirana’s substantial injuries proved too much to survive.

The incident is unusual, particularly for Point Defiance. Goodrowe reports that the Tacoma zoo has introduced four Sumatran tiger pairs since 2010, and none has resulted in a tiger death or serious injury.

“When tigers breed, it’s natural for them to spar with each other, and there is typically some level of aggression,” Goodrowe explained. “This level of aggression was far beyond what we would expect with tiger introductions.”

Sumatran tigers are an endangered species, with about 400 left in the wild on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. There are 77 of them in North American zoos. Point Defiance has four: Bandar, 8, Kali, 8, and Indah, 6, and Raja, 2.