How does a zoo safely arrange a “marriage” between Fiona and Zooka, two powerful and dangerous animals?
By all accounts, expert consultants from other zoos and reproductive organizations noted that it seemed the right time to put them together. After many meetings through mesh called “howdies” and “go” signs from the animals, the jaguars were brought together.
A hair-raising fight ensued. Our betrothed jaguar couple Fiona and Zooka were not so thrilled with the pairing. The key component was the strong relationship of both jaguars with their zoologists that allowed us to separate the animals. At the end of the meeting, there were only hurt feelings and a few cuts and bruises sustained.
As with many hand-raised animals, Fiona most likely missed some important mating cues and behaviors that young jaguars learn from their mother and important interactions like roughhousing and tumbling
with siblings. For Fiona’s sake, we are wary of trying future natural breeding attempts. It is time to bring
in the experts.
Throughout their range, jaguars are becoming more and more isolated because of human development. This creates “genetic islands,” resulting in too closely related animals breeding. To fix this, we can: 1) create connectivity throughout the landscape by creating corridors, hoping cats will move naturally through the habitats and find each other; 2) move adult cats around and hope they survive in their new home and get along with neighboring jaguars; or 3) move sperm around! Truly, corridors are the long-term fix and need to happen. However, to stem the genetic loss now, collecting sperm and impregnating females successfully is the task at hand.
To do nothing would result in losing the valuable genetic contribution Fiona could make for the global population of jaguars under managed care. To do nothing would also prevent her from ever experiencing raising a family, which is one of the most enriching and natural behaviors that a zoo animal can experience, not to mention inspiring to all the people who will see them at our Zoo. Stay tuned for more jaguar updates, and in the meantime, come visit Fiona and Zooka at the Zoo's jaguar habitat.
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