On Sunday, November 15, Riverside Discovery Center (RDC) took the first steps in participating in an Amur tiger breeding program coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). RDC and Lake Superior Zoo (Duluth, Minn.) exchanged tigers; Lana, a female, was transported back to Duluth, while Ussuri, a male named for a river in the Amur region of Southeast Russia, has become part of the collection at RDC. Nika, our female Amur tiger selected for breeding, has resided at the zoo since January 2009.
RDC participates in the AZA Species Survival Plan (SSP), a collaborative population management and conservation program that began in 1981. Amur tigers, also known as Siberian tigers, are a critically endangered species. It is estimated that there are between 300 and 400 Amur tigers remaining in the wild, found in isolated forests across eastern Asia, in parts of Siberia and China. The species suffers from habitat loss and poaching.
“This is a tremendous honor for the Riverside Discovery Center,” said Anne James, executive director. “Nika and Ussuri are genetically valuable in the captive population and a successful breeding between them could have international implications. This is an amazing opportunity to have a global conservation effort happening right in our own backyard.”
RDC’s tiger breeding program will be under the mentorship of personnel from the Denver Zoo. “In the wild, tigers are solitary animals only coming together to share an occasional meal or for breeding purposes. They are not socially communal big cats like lions,” said Peter Halliday, zoo director. “Upon completion of a required 30 day quarantine, the Denver team will guide us on introducing Ussuri to Nika and instruct us on how to recognize mating signals to time the breeding process appropriately.”
“As one of the smaller AZA accredited zoos, funding a breeding program is a financial challenge,” said James. “Therefore, we are forming a Tiger Conservation Team to help us accomplish our goal of rearing tiger cubs.”
Those wishing to have an actual hand in species conservation will receive rewarding benefits as part of the program. Membership levels are $500 and $1000; donors will be honored on a Tiger Conservation Team sign at the tiger exhibit. Top-tier donors will also receive an individual plaque and tiger photograph. If and when cubs are conceived, these donors will be the first members of the public to see them. Participants will receive periodic updates on the tiger breeding program and will be among the first to know if and when cubs are born.
Halliday cautions that cubs are not guaranteed, “It’s totally up to the tigers and Mother Nature, but we will make our best effort to ensure success.” The tiger exhibit is currently undergoing modifications and the tigers are not on view to the public.