‘Computer dating’ — for tigers: Bridgeport zoo part of effort to save species
BRIDGEPORT — Traveling to look for love is no longer a possibility for many people in these times of pandemic-induced lockdown. But, apparently, it’s still an option for tigers.
Zeya, one of Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo’s two Amur tigers, was scheduled to spend her last day at the zoo Monday before being moved to another facility Tuesday for breeding purposes. Beardsley Director Gregg Dancho couldn’t say where Zeya was moving, because the other zoo hasn’t released permission to share that information.
The big move is part of a national program to help preserve critically endangered species, largely through breeding.
“We’re trying to keep these animals on the planet,” Dancho said.
Beardsley is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and participates in its Species Survival Plan program, which helps conserve and protect animal populations. The program matches female and male tigers using a variety of criteria, including age and genetic information.
“Basically, it’s computer dating,” Dancho explained.
Tigers in general and Amur tigers in particular are critically endangered species. Due to habitat loss, poaching and other issues, four of nine subspecies of tiger have disappeared from the wild in just the past 100 years. According to the Association of Zoo and Aquariums, there are roughly 500 Amur tigers left in the wild.
Zeya is one of two Amur tigers at Beardsley. She and her sister Reka were born in 2017 at the zoo. Their parents, Changbai and Petya, have already been moved to other zoos, as part of the Species Survival Plan.
As they reach three years old, Dancho said, Zeya and Reka are at the point where, were they in the wild, they would have started to separate from one another.
“As they start to mature, in the wild they would start to fight, not want to be with each other,” Dancho said. “They are two females need territory and they need to mate.”
Reka will stay behind at the zoo, at least for now, Dancho said. Ideally, a mate will be found for her as well, he said. That could mean bringing a male tiger to the zoo, or sending Reka to mate with a one at another zoo.
Right now, it’s tougher than usual to move animals, due to the pandemic, Dancho said, and moving them across the country — to California, for example — isn’t a possibility.
But Dancho anticipates that Zeya’s transition will go smoothly.
“The beauty of this is that Zeya had tremendous professional care here,” he said. “The perfect age for her to move is right now.”