The tragedy happened just ten days after Asim arrived at the zoo in the hope that he and Melati would help boost the dwindling numbers of the endangered big cats

By Joelle Goldstein
February 09, 2019 12:53 AM
Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

A zoo in London is mourning the loss of their female Sumatran tiger after the first interaction with her potential mate went completely wrong.

The ZSL London Zoo announced in a statement on Friday that their beloved tigress Melati had been fatally attacked by their new male Sumatran tiger Asim in their first face-to-face encounter.

The tragedy happened just ten days after Asim arrived at the zoo in the hope that he and Melati would help boost the dwindling numbers of the endangered big cats. Zookeepers had kept the tigers separated from each other in adjoining enclosures until they felt the animals were ready to meet.

“Asim was moved to ZSL London Zoo as part of the European-wide conservation breeding programme, and it was hoped that the two tigers would be able to breed in the future,” the statement read.

Before the fatal interaction, Asim, 7, and Melati, 10, were able to see, smell, and react to each other through their separate enclosures — a way for zookeepers to monitor their behaviors towards each other to ensure safety for both animals, the statement said.

After witnessing sufficient evidence and “obvious positive signs,” the zoo felt comfortable enough to open the adjoining door and introduce the two predators on Friday morning.

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While things initially got off to a slow start, with both tigers described by the zoo as “cautious,” they quickly turned serious and Asim began to get aggressive with his female counterpart.

The staff, who were carefully watching their interactions, attempted to distract the tigers from each other with loud noises, flares, and alarms — a standard response for zookeepers to implement in these situations, they explained — but it was too late.

Within minutes, Asim had “overpowered” Melati. After carefully securing the male tiger back into his enclosure, Melati was treated by on-site veterinarians but sadly, she did not make it.

“Everyone at ZSL London Zoo is devastated by the loss of Melati, and we are heartbroken by this turn of events,” they wrote in their statement.

The zoo explained that any introductions involving large cats always run an incredibly high risk, no matter how prepared the keepers may be. They also announced that in the wake of Melati’s death, Tiger Territory would be closed for the day and they would be focusing on Asim’s health.

Ahead of Asim’s arrival, the zoo described the large cat as “handsome,” “confident” and said he was “known for being very affectionate with the ladies in his life – we’re hoping he’ll be the perfect mate for our beautiful Melati.”

In addition, they explained that in Asim’s early days at the zoo with Melati, they noticed “lots of ‘chuffing’ which is a happy sound they make to let each other know they have good intentions” and added, “It’s fantastic to see that they’re interested in each other already.”

At this time is not clear whether the zoo plans on keeping Asim in their enclosure or transferring him.

Representatives at ZSL London Zoo did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.