Wild Inside: How Zoo Knoxville is conserving the Malayan tiger population

See how Zoo Knoxville is helping to boost Malayan tiger numbers.
See how Zoo Knoxville is helping to boost Malayan tiger numbers.
Published: Aug. 11, 2023 at 9:56 AM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - There are less than 350 Malayan tigers left in the wild. This week, Harry Sullivan is taking WVLT viewers to Zoo Knoxville to see how they’re helping keep the species alive on Wild Inside.

What you may not know about tigers is that they’re usually solitary animals in the wild. That’s what Zoo Knoxville’s Director of Animal Collctions Phil Colclough told WVLT News when we visited Batari and Tahan, Zoo Knoxville’s Malayan tigers: two big cats the zoo is hoping to breed.

“They’re not like lions and big prides, so whenever you introduce them for breeding, that cycle has to be exactly right with the female before breeding will happen,” Colclough said.

How does Zoo Knoxville work out the kinks in tiger breeding? They’ve got something called an SSP, or Species Survival Plan.

“So we have been through this a number of times and, just like people, some tigers like each other and some of them don’t,” Colclough said. The SSP, which is a Species Survival Plan, has a plan in place to move these around if it doesn’t quite work out from a romantic standpoint.”

Zoo Knoxville is introducing the two tigers through “howdy intros,” which is when the tigers meet through a mesh, just to make sure they’ll get along.

“We actually have seen some breeding. The last cycle didn’t take, but we started again. It’s going pretty well,” Colclough said. “These two we have now really, really seemed to like each other from the moment we put them together. She was rolling around in her back. Think about your house cat whenever she’s like that, whenever she’s coming into a cycle. The big cats act just like that too.”

For now, Colclough said, it’s a waiting game to get the population numbers back up and hopefully some more tigers into the wild.