UPDATED: 2/11/16, 12:40 pm
On February 10, 2016, the Sacramento Zoo was devastated to announce the death of Baha the Sumatran Tiger after an attempted physical introduction with a male tiger. Read the Zoo’s press release for details.
We have received many follow-up questions and concerns from you that we take seriously. We want to share the facts with you directly.
What preparation was made before the introduction?
Much planning and preparation occurred before the physical introduction. First, was considering the personal histories of both tigers. Both Baha and Mohan had successful histories of being paired with other tigers. Baha’s previous pairings resulted in three litters of cubs.
In December 2015 Mohan and Baha began introductions with contact through mesh. They were able to see each other daily, smell each other, rub up against each other through the mesh and interact through the protection of the mesh. They were both alternated in the same space over time as well, allowing for extreme familiarity with scents. With both tigers showing positive behaviors toward each other, and based on their histories, combined with decades of big cat introduction experience at the Sacramento Zoo, the decision was made to physically introduce them.
During the protected contact period staff met several times to work out a plan for the physical introduction, including equipment needs, staffing, and working through different scenarios. The team also developed protocols to be used during, before and after the introduction. The morning of the introduction all planned preparations were put into place, additional staff were present at the tiger facility and additional staff were on alert at the Zoo.
What indicated that the tigers were ready for a physical introduction?
Staff used decades’ worth of knowledge and experience in introducing large cats as well as Mohan and Baha’s histories and behaviors to make the decision to move forward with the physical introduction.
Positive indications from Baha and Mohan included positive vocalizations from both cats called“chuffing,” smelling each other and visually showing interest in each other. All of these signs were also indicators that Baha was cycling, giving the best chances for a positive outcome. The tigers had lived adjacent to one another since December 2015 and had shown a high degree of positive behavior toward one another through the mesh of the indoor living quarters.
What did you do to try and separate the tigers during the incident?
Part of the planning, prior to the physical introduction included preparing for the need to separate the two tigers. Zoo staff had multiple tools at the ready to distract the tigers and attempt to change their focus if needed. Tools included a fire hose with a powerful water stream, a regular hose, a CO2 fire extinguisher, a starter pistol with blanks, air horns, flares and shovels. During the short aggressive interaction Mohan was also being called inside, something he is trained to do. After the aggression began a zookeeper rushed onto the roof of the exhibit throwing items down to try and distract Mohan away from Baha. The Sacramento Zoo’s veterinary team was at the ready onsite. An unsuccessful attempted to tranquilize Mohan occurred during the separation attempt.
Tigers are wild and potentially dangerous animals. At no time do we work with these animals without a mesh protective barrier. It was never an option for staff to go in and intervene in person.
Why was a tranquilizer not used?
Zoo veterinarians with a great deal of experience with a tranquilizer gun used it to assist with the situation. The tranquilizer dart was released as Mohan let go of Baha, and the dart missed the moving target. The whole interaction happened quickly and Mohan was already secured indoors by the time veterinarians had a chance to deploy another dart.
Tranquilizers, even when they hit the target, take several minutes to take effect. In high adrenaline situations such as this, they may even fail to work. Therefore, this was only one of the many methods that staff had available to separate the cats during this situation.
How long was the entire interaction between the tigers?
Mohan and Baha were together about two minutes before the aggression began. From the time the aggression began to the time Mohan was secured inside has been estimated at approximately 6-7 minutes.
What will happen to Mohan?
Mohan will be off-exhibit until further notice while our staff continues to provide excellent care for him, and the remaining collection at the Zoo. We are currently in discussions with the Memphis Zoo and Association of Zoos and Aquariums Sumatran Tiger SSP coordinator to investigate what may be any next housing step for Mohan.
Wasn’t Baha too old to breed?
No. We would not have attempted to introduce the two if Baha was too old. Although she was nearing an age where tigers are no longer reproductive, she was still showing active reproductive behaviors. The decision was thoughtfully made based on her background, her behavior and health, and with the expertise of the Association of Zoo’s and Aquariums Species Survival coordinator.
Why couldn’t in vitro fertilization be used?
Baha had successfully been introduced to a male and had reproduced naturally in the past. Mohan has also been introduced with a female with no aggression. With their histories, in vitro fertilization is not something that was considered.
In vitro fertilization is not something that is commonly done for Sumatran Tigers. Not only is the success rate not as high as natural reproduction, but it also includes hormone injections and numerous immobilizations.
How often does this happen in zoos/the wild?
This was a rare incident for zoos, including the Sacramento Zoo. The Sacramento Zoo has a history of managing first-time tiger introductions. This is the only time that an incident like this has occurred with large cat species at the Zoo during a first-time physical introduction. The Zoo’s records that date back to 1968 document 18 first- time introductions with big cats and over a hundred subsequent reintroductions with no incident.
Will the Zoo lose accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums?
We immediately shared information about the incident with the AZA, following proper protocol. We have heard from them that there is no indication that the Sacramento Zoo will lose its accreditation. We fully support AZA, AZA accredited facilities and the processes that they have set in place for times like this.
What happens now?
We at the Sacramento Zoo are continually evaluating and learning from experiences. As with any animal introduction, we always review what was done to continually improve and our practices. We have already begun evaluating the incident, as well as our protocols and procedures in efforts to improve animal care at the Sacramento Zoo and at other zoos around the world. We will continue to work with AZA while evaluating the situation and learning from it.
Sumatran Tiger Information
Sumatran Tigers are critically endangered and found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra off the Malaysian Peninsula. Fewer than 500 Sumatran Tigers are believed to exist in the wild and approximately 200 live in zoos around the world. They, like other tigers, are mostly solitary coming together only for breeding. After a brief mating period the female leaves the male to raise the cubs on her own. By the age of two the cubs will leave their mother to secure their own territories. Management of tigers in human care based on well-established protocols developed by experienced professionals. The Zoo participates in the Sumatran Tiger Species Survival Plan® (SSP), coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. SSPs are cooperative breeding and conservation programs designed to maintain genetically viable populations of animals in captivity, and to organize zoo and aquarium-based efforts and funding to preserve the species in nature.
The Sacramento Zoo is a nonprofit with a mission to inspire appreciation, respect and a connection with wildlife and nature through education, recreation and conservation. We take the care of our animals and your questions seriously. If you have questions or concerns, please email ZooDirector@saczoo.org.
ORIGINAL POST: 2/10/16, 3:08 pm
The Sacramento Zoo is saddened to announce that Baha, a 15-year-old female Sumatran Tiger, died on Wednesday morning due to trauma received from a male tiger. The Zoo’s male tiger, Mohan, became aggressive with Baha during a physical introduction on the morning of February 10. Staff, who had been monitoring the introduction from the outside of the enclosure, quickly sprang into action to separate the two tigers. As soon as staff were able to get the male tiger into a secure location veterinarians rushed to care for Baha, but unfortunately she had already passed, veterinary staff tried to resuscitate her but were unsuccessful. Baha has been at the Sacramento Zoo since 2002 and has five living offspring from three previous successful breeding introductions that are at other Association of Zoo and Aquarium (AZA) accredited zoos.
“We are truly devastated at the passing of Baha” said Matt McKim, Animal Collection Director. “Not only was she a wonderful ambassador and a truly attentive mother, she was also a one-of-a-kind tiger that inspired many.”
The tiger introduction was planned through the Species Survival Plan® (SSP), an AZA program that cooperatively manages specific populations with the goal of sustaining healthy, genetically diverse, and demographically varied species well into the future. Since the arrival of the male tiger in December 2015, staff had been monitoring his and Baha’s behavior daily as they had visual contact with each other. Both tigers’ behavior indicated that this was the proper time for physical introductions. Based on knowledge and experience from past successful introductions, staff decided to physically introduce the tigers on Wednesday morning. The Sacramento Zoo has successfully housed and introduced tigers since the 1960’s, including Baha and her previous mate, Castro.
In the past century, four of nine tiger subspecies have gone extinct in their natural habitats. Fewer than 500 Sumatran Tigers are believed to exist in the wild and approximately 200 live in zoos around the world. The Zoo participates in the Sumatran Tiger Species Survival Plan® (SSP), coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. SSPs are cooperative breeding and conservation programs designed to maintain genetically viable populations of animals in captivity, and to organize zoo and aquarium-based efforts to preserve the species in nature.
|Baha the Sumatran Tiger|
|Baha the Sumatran Tiger|