- A male Sumatran tiger has arrived at a captive-breeding program in Tacoma, Washington state, where it’s hoped more of the critically endangered cats will be born.
- Fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers survive in the wilds of Sumatra today, where forest loss is pushing many of the island’s species, including tigers, into smaller pockets of habitat.
- This article was produced in collaboration with McClatchy News.
A known breeding Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica) has made its way to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington state, in hopes it will produce more cubs of this critically endangered big cat. The zoo is set to debut Sanjiv, an 11-year-old male tiger weighing in at 130 kilograms (286 pounds), to the public on Jan. 6.
Sanjiv has already fathered four cubs, and keepers and conservationists hope he will mate with the two female Sumatran tigers on site, Kali, 9 years old, and Indah, who is 8. Sanjiv was transferred in December from the Topeka Zoo & Conservation Center, but keepers say he’s already adjusting well to his new home.
“[Sanjiv] is a very social and expressive tiger who loves to interact with his keepers and our two female tigers,” assistant curator Erin Pritchard said in a press release. “He’s always chuffing and vocalizing, and he’s fascinated with the swinging gibbons and other species that share his Asian Forest Sanctuary home.”
Captive breeding can prove difficult, however. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium lost a female Sumatran tiger in 2021 after a male mortally wounded her during a breeding introduction.
Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae) are named after their home in Indonesia, a tropical, forested island larger than California. They are the smallest of living tigers, and the only tiger left that inhabits an island. As a top predator, the Sumatran tiger plays a key role in the island’s ecosystems. Although scientists are currently debating tiger taxonomy, Sumatran tigers are generally considered a distinct subspecies, with their two closest relatives — the Bali and Javan tiger — already extinct.
Fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers survive in the wild today, according to some experts. Sumatra has lost around half of its old-growth forests in the last 40 years, pushing many of its species, including tigers, into smaller pockets of habitat. And Sumatran tigers face other threats as well: they are active targets for poachers, who sell their body parts on the black market. The large cats can also come into conflict with local villagers, and are sometimes caught in snares meant for wild pigs or deer.
Amid all this, zoos around the world are playing a key role in preserving this top predator from extinction. According to Point Defiance, only 72 Sumatran tigers live in accredited U.S. zoos. This captive population is managed by a Species Survival Plan under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
“We’re working hard to protect and boost the population of this critically endangered species, and the genetics of these three tigers are very valuable,” Karen Goodrowe Beck, general curator of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, said in a press release. “Species Survival Plans help ensure a healthy, genetically diverse, and self-sustaining population to ensure the long-term future of these majestic big cats.”
Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium has successfully bred Sumatran tigers before, including triplets in 2014.
Jeremy Hance is a senior correspondent for Mongabay and is author of “Baggage: Confessions of a Globe-Trotting Hypochondriac.“
This article was produced in collaboration with McClatchy News.
Related audio from Mongabay’s podcast: A conversation with two experts on the challenges Sumatran tigers face from habitat fragmentation, listen here: