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Sedgwick County Zoo’s Amur tiger cub dies

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, March 1, 2013, at 10:20 a.m.
  • Updated Friday, March 1, 2013, at 11:49 a.m.

When she gave birth to her first cub Sunday at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Talali, an Amur tiger, showed strong maternal instincts.

Her cub had been conceived as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan using a new artificial insemination technique.

Everyone was excited that the technique, which used semen from the zoo’s male Amur tiger, Ivan, and frozen semen from a tiger at the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, had worked.

But 36 hours after birth, the female cub died, the zoo announced Friday.

“The ultimate cause of the cub’s death was internal trauma,” said the zoo’s deputy director, Ryan Gulker. Talali “may have stepped or laid on it. Her maternal instincts were very strong, almost too strong.”

Video surveillance showed no maternal aggression or neglect, he said.

That Talali was a first-time mother who was hand-raised and that she had only one cub likely contributed to the death, Gulker said.

“She was a first-time mother, which especially when you’re talking about large carnivores. . . experience breeds success, no pun intended,” Gulker said.

“Sometimes being hand-raised can be a detriment but not as much as being a first-time mother. Typically the mortality rate for single cubs in a litter is higher than if you have two or three or four. The mortality rate kind of creeps up on you.”

Talali carried her cub around for a while after its death and tried to bury it in her nest box, Gulker said.

A calm tiger, she is now mostly back to her normal behavior, he said.

Talali and her sister, Zeya, who also is at the county zoo, were both artificially inseminated in November.

Zeya did not get pregnant. Talali’s pregnancy was 103 days.

Zoo staff sent fecal samples off for regular testing. Fecal samples can show changes in hormone levels that indicate pregnancy, Gulker said.

“We started noticing differences in the hormone levels between Talali and Zeya,” he said. “We were very excited at that point. While we are very sad that the cub died, we are also excited that the procedure worked.”

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan for Amur tigers had recommended breeding the tigers at the county zoo, the news release said. Fifty accredited zoos participate in the survival plan and house 146 Amur tigers, an animal that is endangered. There are less than 500 Amur tigers in the world, 95 percent of which are in the Russian Far East.

“Artificial insemination in tigers in the past had a very low success rate,” Gulker said. “The new procedure had been done successfully in some smaller cat, and now they are attempting to see how well it will work in large cats. In our case, it took for Talali.”

The new procedure involved laparoscopically inserting semen directly into the fallopian tubes near the oviduct, Gulker said.

Colleen Lambo, a scientist from the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Lindner Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife, performed the laparoscopic insemination, a news release from the zoo said.

“We are heartbroken by the loss of the cub,” Lambo said in the release. “However, we are encouraged by the success of this new artificial insemination approach in tigers and will continue working to improve its application in support of tiger conservation.”

Artificial insemination in tigers has resulted in only three known pregnancies out of 60 procedures in the past 20 years, the release said.

The zoo is not planning on another procedure for Talali.

“We have been told we can let her reproduce naturally with our male tiger, Ivan,” Gulker said. “We’ll see if they want to get together the natural way.”

Talali and Zeya were born in 2005 in Lansing, Mich., and came to the Sedgwick County Zoo in January 2009.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com.

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