Tiger dies after breeding introduction at Point Defiance Zoo

TACOMA, Wash. — Kirana, a female Sumatran tiger, died Monday morning at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma after suffering severe injuries during a breeding introduction.

Six-year-old Kirana sustained life-threatening injuries from Raja, the zoo’s male Sumatran tiger.

Kirana’s death was described as “heartbreaking” for the zoo staff, especially for those that have cared for her since she was a cub.

The breeding introduction was part of a plan to help save her endangered species.

Point Defiance Zoo has introduced four Sumatran tiger pairs since 2010 and none resulted in a tiger death or serious injury.

There are only about 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, with an additional 77 in North American zoos.

“The loss of Kirana is a tragedy for our zoo family, our community, and our world,” said Point Defiance Zoo Director Alan Varsik. “With just a few Sumatran tigers left on this earth, we need to do everything we possibly can to help them survive.”

For the last few months, zookeepers were slowly introducing Kirana to Raja, a male, just 10 days shy of his 3rd birthday. The hope was that they would soon mate, but it didn’t go as planned.

“It is indeed a sad occasion,” said Alan Varsik, who has been director of the Point Defiance for as long as Kirana was alive.

He says last Friday, their cage doors were opened and Kirana and Raja met for the first time, face-to-face. He says all the signs pointed to the possibility of a happy union.

“They were really showing an affinity for one another,” said Varsik. “And we were excited about this potential opportunity to add to the population of Sumatran tigers.”

Instead, Raja attacked Kirana, causing grievous injuries. Nine zookeepers who were observing their interaction immediately stepped in.

“We were prepared to apply things like hoses, pepper spray, CO2 fire extinguishers, more as a distraction, to get him to separate.   He did move away.”

News of Kirana’s tragic death spread quickly across Tacoma’s zoo loving community.

“Oh, they’re beautiful animals,” said Alison Quaigg, Tacoma. “But they are wild. I’m just thankful none of the people that were taking care of them got injured. But tragic, what happened.”

Kirana was treated for her wounds, but she died Monday.

As for Raja, he will remain here at the Point Defiance Zoo. But he will not be introduced to a female again. They say they will likely use artificial insemination with him in the future.

To learn more about tiger conservation, go to: pdza.org/care/save-tigers