Birth of Malayan tiger cubs revives breeding efforts

Welcome additions: Night Safari’s latest twin cubs at two months of age. — The Straits Times/ANN

THE birth of twin Malayan tigers at the Night Safari last December – the first in over two decades – has revived Singapore’s effort to breed the critically endangered subspecies.

The latest additions take the tally of successfully bred Malayan tigers in Wildlife Reserves Singapore’s (WRS) parks to 26.

WRS estimates there are about 150 left in the wild.

Native to Peninsular Malaysia, the species died out in Singapore when the last one was shot in 1930 in Choa Chu Kang.

Over the last 60 years, they are increasingly threatened by poaching for illegal wildlife trade, with their parts sought for traditional Chinese medicine, as well as habitat loss and fragmentation.

The Strait Times spoke to Anand Kumar, assistant curator for carnivores at WRS, to find out about the latest breeding success.

While 24 Malayan tiger cubs were born in WRS’ parks between 1994 and 1998, the absence of fertile tigers was the main reason behind the dearth of births that followed.

“There was a lack of suitable breeding pairs with most of the tigers being above the age of 17, which tends to be when their reproductive systems shut down, ” he said.

Zoological institutions carefully manage the pairings of critically endangered animals to ensure genetic diversity.

This prevents the risk of inbreeding, or mating among relatives, which can lead to health complications.

“Low sperm counts, birth defects, being more prone to sickness and shorter life spans are possible consequences, ” Anand said.

The animal’s family tree and age are a few key factors that zoos consider when matching the tigers.

“There are not many Malayan tigers under human care, so acquiring genetically viable pairs is difficult, ” he added.

As at 2019, there are 48 male and 37 female Malayan tigers under human care worldwide, recorded by the International Tiger Studbook under the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Not all of them are of breeding age, which makes it harder to secure the right mate.

To support conservation of the critically endangered subspecies, WRS partners the non-profit Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers to engage the community in Citizen Action for Tigers walks in Malaysia’s wildlife corridors that monitor the activity of poachers and remove tiger snares.

WRS plans to breed more Malayan tigers.

Since 1994, it has sent 17 Malayan tigers to zoological institutions in other countries as part of exchange programmes to further genetic diversity of the tigers under human care. — The Straits Times/ANN

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