Ok it is time to be brave and tackle this issue. I have left it alone for a while, but just because I am tentative to write about it and share my opinion should not stop me from posting about it.
A male Malayan tiger died at the zoo on Thursday, September 8, 2011. Malayan tigers were only recently (2004) classified as a separate subspecies to the Indochinese tiger that inhabits six Asian countries. There are an estimated 500 individuals of Malayan tigers left in the wild and they only inhabit the Malay peninsula. They are an endangered species threatened by human-wildlife conflict and habitat destruction due to agricultural products.
Animals that are under human care in zoos and aquariums are overall managed by a Species Survival Program (SSP). For each species of animal a different person manages their “stud book”. This stud book has all the genetic information and from that resource, scientists decide what animals they will match up across the country and sometimes world in an attempt to breed. The tigers at the El Paso Zoo are part of the Malayan tiger species survival plan and the male and female were placed together in hopes that they would breed. The introductions of animals under human care is an extremely long and careful process. Animals are first introduced by smell, sight, controlled contact (a barrier between them) and then full contact. The process takes months and sometimes even longer depending on the species.
The male and female tigers at the El Paso Zoo were introduced to each other earlier this year and were enjoying their daily interactions in the main exhibit for the past few months. Visitors watched them play and enjoy their pool and other enrichments keepers placed in their exhibit. One of my first days at the zoo, I was intriguid by their interactions and I blogged about them. I even caught a picture of Seri (the female, 4 years old now) stalking Wzui (male, 6 years old). Click here to see the past blog pictures.
Being a past keeper I know the love, dedication, hard work and enthusiasm that goes into their work everyday. Even just acquiring a zoo keeper job is incredibly hard. It is an extremely competitive field and most keepers have a bachelors degree in a related field (zoology, biology, wildlife sciences, etc) or equal related experience. Keepers must monitor all aspects of their animals and get to know each animal’s personality to be able to monitor their health on a daily basis. When things are a little out of the norm for an individual animal, the vet is notified and the animals are monitored even more diligently and treated if necessary. Being a zoo keeper is not an easy job. You must always be on point and make sure that all of your tasks have been completed with a clear mind.
The keepers that interact with the tigers grew a strong bond with those animals. They say Wzui was a down to Earth tiger and very relaxed. I feel for them during their loss as well as I know they feel for the female’s loss of her friend and hopeful future mate.
Both the male and female were on exhibit together when the male died. They were seen earlier that day playing. The news reports that the female “killed” the male. I don’t know. I don’t think anyone will ever know. We can only speculate what happened. Was it malicious? I don’t think so but again I don’t know. Was it an accident? Maybe. It is a reminder that these animals are by no means tamed or domesticated.
Animals in zoos are ambassadors for their counterparts in the wild. They share the same genes and in some cases (some species) are re-introduced into the wild. For example, without the re-introduction of the Mexican wolf, that species would be extinct in the wild. The population is now hanging around 50 individuals in the wild.
Nothing can compare to a face to face interaction with a live wild animal. That connection creates an emotional attachment and hopefully people learn and understand the importance of preserving these species in the wild. Then, you learn that little things you can do at home and in your community can help preserve those species.
This is a very sad event at the El Paso Zoo. I propose that we honor Wzui as the ambassador he was. Let’s protect his species in the wild. The best part is, the Malayan tiger is an umbrella species. Which means, if we can protect the Malayan tiger’s habitat we are also protecting habitat for hundreds of other species of both plants and animals that live in the same area. What can you do to protect Malayan tiger populations from declining?
One program that currently helps tigers in the wild is
“The WWF-Malaysia Tigers Alive! project focuses on reducing human-tiger conflict and raising awareness through educational programs, addressing tiger landscape connectivity as well as monitoring of tigers and their prey. Each component forms an important part of a broader approach to addressing tiger conservation in Malaysia.”
You can support them by adopting a tiger.
Another program is
Citizen Action for Tigers. This is a more extreme volunteer project but sounds awesome! If you can’t commit to something like that, just support their work. Remember “liking” organizations on Facebook and other social media, and signing petitions can help the non profits. When they write for a grant and can show the number of supporters their organization has, it can greatly affect their chances of being awarded the grant funds to pursue their invaluable work. So like MYCAT on Facebook.
An easy to do one at home is avoid palm oil. Farmers are cutting down huge areas of the forest and replacing the high biodiversity forest with a monoculture of palm oil. It is devastating to the environment and to species habitats. Palm oil is found in so many products from milk to lotion to soaps. The El Paso Zoo made an easy to read and follow Palm Oil Shopping Guide with products you should avoid. So click here to download it and print it out! You can also just read the back of products and avoid anything with palm oil (also called palmitate, palminite, etc).
And lastly –
Thank you for your continued support of the El Paso Zoo. Especially in hard times like these. The staff of over 100 work very hard every day to care for every individual animal.