The Los Angeles Zoo unveiled a new addition to the tigers den this week, just in time for Valentine's Day. The 2-year-old female, Indah, is expected to be the new companion of the zoo's 4-year-old male, C.J., after a lengthy introduction process.
Indah was acquired from the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Washington in June of last year. But before the betrothed could be united, zoo staff had to test the waters to make sure they got to know each other, as tigers are a naturally territorial species, Stephanie Zielinski, their primary caretaker.
"Tigers are a solitary species and in general, when they’re adults, they don’t come across each other a whole lot unless it’s breeding season," she told KPCC. "They don’t live in pairs or family groups, anything like that — they hunt and live alone.”
Though the couple are barely being introduced to the public, the romance began behind the scenes. C.J. and Indah were periodically allowed to see each other without being in the same space, giving them them the opportunity to kindle the flame themselves. Roughly six months after the two-year-old arrived at the zoo, they began living in the same habitat.
“We wanted to make sure there was a nice bond formed before we actually put these guys together, full-contact,” Zielinski said.
Both felines were born in captivity — C.J. was the only cub while Indah had two sisters. That can create personality differences, which also prompted them to use caution while inching toward complete interaction.
They're relationship is still budding, but after step by little step, she saw Indah start to warm up to C.J. and show signs of increasing comfort.
“They aren’t cuddling yet, but they’re definitely laying next to each other and sunning with each other and they touch noses," she added.
Another sign of courtship is chuffing, which they've started to do. Zielinski describes it as a sort of loud purr, where they blow through their noses and mouths, a sign of happiness or affection.
The pair are expected to continue familiarizing themselves with one another until Indah reaches sexual maturity. Then, they can began breeding, as part of a Species Survival Program. Normal breeding age for females is three to four years old, while males can procreate between the age of four and five, Zielinski said. Sumatran tigers are considered an endangered species, with less than 400 left in the wild.
“These guys are still kind of young, kind of adolescent, and we’re hopeful that within the next year or so, that we’ll see some success,” she said.