Tiger, orangutan make debut at El Paso Zoo

EL PASO, Texas - Visitors to the El Paso Zoo can now see two new animals on exhibit in the Asia section of the Zoo.

Malayan tiger, Belahat, and Sumatran Orangutan, Butch, are now on exhibit where visitors can see them.   

Both animals are part of a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP). The SSP's mission is to conserve species such as the Malayan tiger and Sumatran orangutan which are currently critically endangered. Zoo management and keepers have worked diligently to slowly introduce both of these animals to their new mates- a common practice throughout zoos for the safety and well-being of the animals.

"We are happy to have Belahat and Butch in our care. Both of these animals are extremely important to the survival of their species and we are looking forward to having a successful breeding between Belahat and Seri and Ibu and Butch," said Asia Collections Supervisor Griselda Martinez.  

Belahat is a 13-year-old Malayan Tiger that was transferred to the El Paso Zoo from Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo. Butch is a 27-year-0ld Sumatran Orangutan that was transferred to the El Paso Zoo from the Cincinnati Zoo in March 2011 to breed with 21-year-old Ibu.

Martinez said that Butch is very shy and tends to not give eye contact a lot to Ibu and when Ibu tries to touch him he usually runs away. Martinez said it is because male Orangutans are solitary animals and tend to be reserved.

Belahat isn't as shy as Butch and is enjoying flirting with Seri through a mesh barrier. The two are never on exhibit together at the same time and are kept separate until it is time to breed.

In summer 2011, Seri unexpectedly killed Wzui, her mate, in the tiger exhibit.

Officials said both tigers were seen playing and being affectionate on exhibit the morning of the killing.

Wzui and 3-year-old Seri, a female, arrived at the zoo in early 2011 at the recommendation of the Malayan Tiger Species Survival Plan, a program that allows accredited zoos to help breed endangered species.

The young couple moved in with the then-15-year-old Meli, the zoo's longtime female resident tiger.

Wzui appeared to like them both officials said last year but the females seemed jealous of each other.

"Females normally don't get along that well to begin with," Martinez said last year. "but then when Wzui came into the picture, it was a little tougher because now we had three tigers in there."

Malayan tigers in captivity have a high survival rate due to the lack of predators, say zoo officials, but they are endangered across Asia where their total population size is estimated to be less than 2,500.

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