Tiger matchmaking: Calgary zoo pairs its female Amur tiger with new mate

The Calgary Zoo is matching its female Amur tiger with a new partner. 

Ten-year-old Sarma is being paired with Samkha — a nine-year-old male tiger from Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg — in hopes they will breed, according to a news release from the Calgary Zoo.

In 2018, the zoo brought in a male Amur tiger named Youri, who is now eight years old, hoping he and Sarma would breed. But Sarma and Youri never hit it off. 

“Sometimes animals just don’t match up well in terms of size or personality,” said Jennifer Godwin, an animal care manager at the Calgary Zoo.

In March, the zoo used artificial insemination in an effort to get Samra pregnant, but the technique was not successful.

That’s why the zoo is introducing Sarma to a new partner. Youri will be sent to the Assiniboine Park Zoo, where his sister resides. Monday is the last day Calgarians can see Youri before he leaves.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums has a tiger species survival plan and it recommended Sarma be matched with Samkha.

Youri, an eight-year-old male Amur tiger, never successfully bred with Sarma. (Calgary Zoo)

Species survival plans are meant to maintain “a healthy genetic diversity within the captive population so one animal’s genes don’t become over-represented,” according to the Calgary Zoo.

“It’s kind of like a dating, matching program with other accredited facilities,” Godwin said. 

Amur tigers, previously known as Siberian Tigers, are classified as endangered, with an estimated 540 left in the wild.

“It would be a huge contribution to the whole population if these two were able to breed,” Godwin said about Sarma and Samkha.

According to Godwin, Amur tigers are the largest cat species in the world. Because they are normally found in Siberia, she said the tigers are well-suited for Calgary’s weather. 

A long introduction process

Samkha will arrive at the Calgary Zoo in early December. But it won’t be his first time in Alberta.

The male tiger was born at the Calgary Zoo in March 2012 but has lived in Winnipeg since 2014.

“We’re really excited to have him back here,” Godwin said. 

Upon arrival, Samkha will do a 30-day quarantine, according to Godwin, before being introduced to Sarma. 

“We do the long, drawn-out introduction process,” she said. 

Godwin said introducing two tigers to each other can be dangerous, so the zoo has safety measures in place to ensure neither tiger is harmed in the process. 

Samkha, pictured here in 2012 with his siblings Kira and Vasili, was born at the Calgary Zoo. (Calgary Zoo)

“We’ll start with them, you know, being able to smell each other, being able to see each other from afar, and we’ll bring them closer behind [a] kind of mesh and leave it at that for a few days.” 

Then the zoo will allow the tigers to have short interactions with staff present and see where the relationship goes from there. 

Samkha will have to undergo a 30-day quarantine upon arrival in Calgary. (Assiniboine Park Zoo)

With files from Elise von Scheel

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