Calgary, AB – It’s a tale of matchmaking, homecoming, and family reunions – one that the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo hopes will end in the pitter patter of little paws. The zoo has been hoping its 10-year-old femaleAmur tiger, Sarma, would successfully breed with 8-year-old male Amur tiger, Youri, since his arrival at the zoo in 2018 but the pair haven’t successfully bred since they have been together.
10-year-old female Amur tiger, Sarma (born at Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg) joined the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo family in August 2017 from the Cherry Brook Zoo in Saint John. 8-year-old male Amur tiger, Youri, joined the zoo in June 2018 from Zoo de Granby in Quebec where he was born. The two were a recommended breeding pair by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP). An SSP is like a modern-day dating app for animals – individuals are matched based on age, health and genetics. SSPs are designed to maintain a healthy genetic diversity within the captive population so one animal’s genes don’t become over-represented.
Despite being a suitable match, Sarma and Youri haven’t successfully bred since they have been together. The pairs first attempt at breeding was in December 2018. Between 2019 and 2021, the pair were introduced to each other for breeding several more times, but no conception was achieved. Both tigers are genetically valuable so the Tiger SSP requested the zoo try artificial insemination even though this technique has not yet been successful in tigers. The pair participated in assisted reproductive therapy in the spring but did not produce a litter. To maximize the reproductive potential of Sarma and Youri, the Tiger SSP has recommended a new pairing. Sarma has been matched with a new male Amur tiger, 9-year-old Samkha.
“Everything we do at the Wilder Institute and the Calgary Zoo is with a focus to support wildlife conservation” said Jamie Dorgan, Director of Animal Care, Health & Welfare. “When visitors see such a magnificent species, like an Amur tiger, at our facility it’s a special moment and it builds connections between people and animals. These connections create awareness and inspire action to make a difference for wildlife. Sarma and Samkha are genetically valuable individuals within the global Amur tiger population. Supporting them to successfully produce offspring is critical for the international efforts to save wild Amur tigers from extinction.”
With the new Tiger SSP breeding recommendation for Sarma and Samkha, Samkha will arrive in Calgary in the next few weeks. However, Samkha is no stranger to Calgary. He was born at the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo in March 2012 but has lived at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg since January 2014. Samkha is the offspring of Katja, a beloved Amur tiger that passed away in 2019 at the elderly tiger age of 19-years-old. Samkha’s return ‘home’ will be especially heartwarming for the staff of the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo as it brings back fond memories of Katja, her cubs, and her legacy at the zoo. The last time the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo had tiger cubs was Katja’s litter in 2012 which included Samkha. In time, the zoo hopes that Samkha and Sarma will contribute to the legacy of Amur tiger conservation at the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo with a litter of cubs of their own.
The Family Reunion
Samkha’s pending arrival in Calgary means the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo will be saying good-bye to Youri as he will be heading to his new home at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg. Until he has a new breeding recommendation, Youri will be reunited with his sister, Volga, who currently resides at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. Youri is a much-loved member of the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo family and will be missed but zoo staff are hopeful that with a new breeding recommendation he will sire offspring of his own.
Unlike human travel, the logistics of moving endangered animals isn’t as simple as booking a flight or renting a car. It has taken months of careful planning between the AZA Tiger SSP, the Assiniboine Park Zoo team, and the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo team to get to where they are today. Though the logistics are challenging, safely and successfully moving animals between accredited facilities is critical to wildlife conservation.
On arrival in early December, Samkha will spend a short time in quarantine, then he will get reacquainted with his home in Exploration Asia and begin building trust with his caregivers. Mating season for Amur tigers is typically December to January with a gestation period of three to four months. An average litter size is three or four cubs. If Sarma and Samkha successfully mate, their cubs will likely stay at the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo until they mature and then they would head off to new homes - hopefully with breeding recommendations of their own.
There’s still time to visit the zoo to say goodbye to Youri before his journey to Winnipeg! The final day to see Youri in Calgary will be Monday, November 29, 2021. Be sure to follow the Calgary Zoo’s social channels to stay up-to-date on when you can expect to see Samkha on park.
About the SSP – To help ensure endangered species, like the Amur tiger, are around for generations to come, accredited zoos work together to protect their genetics through managed breeding programs called Species Survival Plans (SSPs). By matching the right animals, the hope is that they will produce offspring which will help maintain a healthy and genetically diverse population of endangered animals in captivity and safeguard species from extinction.
About Amur tigers - Amur tigers, previously known as Siberian Tigers. are classified as Endangered under the IUCN Red List. They are one of the smallest living tiger populations, with an estimated 540 individuals in the wild. The species is mainly threatened by habitat loss due to agriculture, logging and mining. They are also illegally poached for the wildlife pet trade and for their fur and body parts.
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For more than 30-years, the Calgary Zoo has led critical wildlife conservation work through the Calgary Zoo, its rural Wildlife Conservation Breeding Centre, as well as across Canada and around the world. The zoo is internationally recognized for world-class animal care and habitat design practices and takes pride in inspiring and educating generations of visitors about the importance of biodiversity and conservation during visits. As the Calgary Zoo continues its journey to be Canada’s leader in wildlife conservation, we are pleased to introduce the world to the Wilder Institute.
The Wilder Institute is the rebranded Calgary Zoo Foundation and oversees the Calgary Zoo’s conservation portfolio, locally and globally. Together, we will continue to be a force of nature for making the world a wilder place. The staff and volunteers of Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo are passionate about restoring balance to wildlife and human life, together. As visitors discover the rare and endangered species that we love and care for at our facilities, they are directly contributing through admission and on-grounds sales to a not-for-profit charitable conservation organization that works to fight extinction of plants and animals worldwide. Learn more at WilderInstitute.org and CalgaryZoo.com.