The head of London Zoo has revealed how she was left “numb with shock” after a female tiger was mauled to death by her prospective mate.
Kathryn England shared a letter which she wrote to staff after Melati, 10, was killed on Friday.
The Sumatran tigress was meeting male mate Asim, seven, for the first time when he overpowered her.
CEO Ms England said her team were armed with “fire extinguishers, airhorns, hoses and flares…to distract them if the encounter took a dangerous turn.”
But despite their best efforts, the tigers “turned on each other” and Melati was fatally injured.
She wrote: “They swiped at each other and reared up – all quite a normal part of them testing their boundaries.
“But in the blink of an eye, with no obvious provocation, they turned on each other and our years of experience told us it was beyond normal.
“The initial skirmish lasted a few seconds and we were already reacting. Asim started to retreat and we were poised to close the gate when Melati lashed back out at him.
“He overpowered her in a split second. Everyone sprang into action; lighting flares, sounding airhorns and setting off fire extinguishers and hoses.
“Unfortunately by the time Asim retreated the second time and we could close the gate, Melati had been fatally injured.
“It took moments. Everyone was numb with shock, and the sheer disbelief was palpable.
“As soon it was safe our vets ran to Melati with every hope they might yet save her, and even these experienced professionals of the zoo world were entirely distraught to find they couldn’t.”
Asim arrived at London Zoo from Denmark on January 29 as part of a Europe-wide breeding programme for the species.
The team, who have more than 120 years of collective experience managing tigers between us, “all felt confident” about introducing the pair, who had been “calling and chuffing” to each other.
Ms England also said Melati had a “cruicial role generating advocacy” at the zoo, and she is hoping her death will “trigger a greater understanding of the challenges faced by her species in the wild.”
She added: “The coming days will be tough as we come to terms with what’s happened, but we will treasure our memories of this special tigress forever.”