Category: Tech / Sci / March 20, 2013 5:33 PM EDT
Zookeepers in London are hoping for romance between Europe's two most genetically important Sumatran tigers after they were paid a visit by Britain's Duke of Edinburgh on Wednesday (March 20).
Melati and Jae Jae met for the first time at the London zoo earlier this month after being paired by the global breeding program for endangered species.
"We have got two very very special tigers here. Melati came to us from Perth zoo and in fact Melati's the granddaughter of the last tiger we bred here, and we've also got Jae Jae who came to us from Akron zoo. And Jae Jae is one of the most handsome tigers I've come across and I have known a few tigers in my time. Incredible animals and in fact these animals, these two, are the most important genetically speaking for tigers in any zoos, That's why we've brought them together, it's so important we get these guys to breed," said zoological director David Field.
Estimates suggest there are just 300 Sumatran tigers left in the wild.
Zookeepers were quick to move the pair apart after they began growling and appeared to be fighting with each other in front of the press.
But one tiger expert described their disagreement as a 'play fight' and simply a sign that the female Melati is 'playing hard to get'.
Zoo officials say hopes are high for breeding between the pair and if it happens their cubs would be the first born at London zoo for more than 15 years.
"As we get to know them, they're actually very lovely individuals, she's a very beautiful animal, she has more kind of an active nature, he is a very calm relaxed and confident in his nature. As a tiger keeper I am quite used to looking after tigers so these two are a real pleasure for me. They're young energetic animals so we can do lots of fun things for their enrichment and feeding, using the feeding poles, getting them to run around, so they're good fun energetic animals to look after," tiger keeper Teague Stubbington explained
The pair's new home is London zoo's latest 3.6 million GBP attraction Tiger Territory, which was officially opened on Tuesday by Britain's Duke of Edinburgh.
He joked that he declared the enclosure 'closed' as the big cats appeared inches from his legs .
Former Spice Girls singer Geri Halliwell also attended the opening ceremony.
Video Source: Reuters