A Colorado zoo tried to use artificial insemination to help save a tiger population “near the brink of extinction” — but the female tiger died Thursday from complications.
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs said Monday that a 9-year-old tiger named Savelii died after an artificial insemination procedure.
Zoo workers said they worked for months to try to get Savelii to naturally breed with the zoo’s male tiger, Chewy, but efforts didn’t work. The natural breeding process for tigers, however, can often be aggressive, the zoo said.
There are only about 500 Amur tigers in the wild, the zoo says, and around 100 are in human care at zoos and aquariums in the U.S. and Canada.
“When those natural breeding introduction efforts failed, we decided on artificial insemination as the safest way to safeguard this amazing species of Amur tiger from extinction,” the zoo said.
Because the artificial insemination procedure was so critical for the species’ existence, seven veterinarians, reproductive biologists and representatives from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and one university were all present.
“It was an important step forward for a species near the brink of extinction – it was requested and approved by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Tiger Species Survival Plan and was funded in part by a federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services,” the zoo said. “Much hope hinged on the outcome of this procedure.”
Savelii died from complications during recovery. The zoo did not say specifically what the complications were, but zoo officials said life-saving measures were taken.
“Sometimes the test of a decision is, ‘Would you make it again?’ While I think about this tonight, with the loss so fresh, the real answer is, ‘I don’t know,’” Bob Chastain, the zoo’s CEO, said in the news release. “But what I do know is that housing tigers is not enough to save them. In a national study of the top 20 animals people most love, from whales to elephants, tigers were number one. And yet, they are slipping through our fingers.”