Female tiger dies in Sacramento Zoo fight with newly acquired male tiger

A 15-year-old female Sumatran tiger died Wednesday morning at the Sacramento Zoo after a fight with the zoo’s recently acquired male tiger.

Baha died from injuries suffered when she was introduced to the male tiger, Mohan, according to zoo officials. Before opening hours, staff monitored the introduction from outside the enclosure and quickly tried to separate the two tigers when the fight occurred, said Kyle Burks, the Sacramento Zoo’s director and chief executive officer.

After zoo officials removed Mohan, veterinary staff attempted to resuscitate Baha, but she had already died from her injuries.

Baha had been at the Sacramento Zoo since 2002 and previously gave birth to five cubs, Burks said. The zoo acquired Mohan from the Memphis Zoo in November, and he and Baha had lived in adjoining enclosures since December, Burks said.

Burks said a team of zoo staff members monitored various aspects of the tigers’ behavior, including vocalizations and the amount of time they spent watching and smelling each other through the mesh barrier that separated their enclosures. Based on those observations, they determined that the two tigers were ready to be physically introduced to each other in the same enclosure Wednesday morning.

Burks said Baha was in an outdoor enclosure to which Mohan was allowed access. Within two minutes after Mohan entered, he became aggressive with Baha, Burks said.

The zoo team was watching from outside the enclosure and immediately began using various devices, such as a fire extinguisher, water hoses and noisemakers, to separate the tigers.

Aggression between tigers is rare, Burks said, but added that it does occur between tigers in captivity.

The cause of Baha’s death will be determined through a necropsy, Burks said.

Mohan has been removed from the public viewing area and is being monitored, he said.

The zoo’s former breeding male tiger, Castro, was euthanized in October 2014 after being treated for lymphoma. At age 16 1/2 , he was the oldest breeding male Sumatran tiger in the United States. At the time of his death, he and Baha had five living offspring that had gone to other Association of Zoos and Aquariums facilities to participate in the Sumatran Tiger Species Survival Plan.

Twelve-year-old Mohan was brought to the Sacramento Zoo last year through the same Association of Zoos and Aquariums program. The Species Survival Program coordinates all of the breeding efforts for tigers in North American zoos and works with conservation groups in the wild to increase awareness of the problems the tigers face.

The Sacramento Zoo has successfully housed and introduced tigers since the 1960s, including Baha and Castro, zoo officials said.

In the past century, four of nine tiger subspecies have gone extinct in their natural habitats, according to the statement issued by the zoo. Fewer than 500 Sumatran tigers are believed to exist in the wild and approximately 200 live in zoos around the world.

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy