This Saturday, July 29, is International Tiger Day, and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is marking the occasion with the news that they have broken ground on a brand new tiger breeding facility at the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari, thanks to a very generous gift from one of our donors.
“Some of the very first tiger reproductive research was done here at the Omaha zoo in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but it hadn’t been an area where the zoo was focusing its efforts for the past few years,” says Dr. Jason Herrick, who was named director of reproductive sciences early this year to increase the success rate of the zoo’s breeding efforts.
“We need to get more animals into the population to maintain genetic diversity.” Herrick says, noting that breeding success for amur tigers in zoos has been in decline over the past several years. In 2016, only two litters were born in zoos – one of which was in Omaha. “That’s only a 20 percent success rate worldwide. We’d like to see it get to 50 percent.”
The project is dependent on artificial insemination so Herrick and his team are collecting samples from tigers at zoos across the country and then freezing them. He says that the facility at the safari park will have five females and one male (there will be a separate amur tiger population in the Asian Highlands exhibition), and he’s hoping to be able to do at least five successful inseminations here in Omaha, in addition to helping with the breeding programs at zoos around the country.
“No one else has a breeding facility like this for tigers, so that should benefit the research efforts quite a bit,” Herrick says. In addition to the facility, the support the program has received from everyone at the zoo has made him optimistic for its success. "The keepers, the vet staff – everyone has been very open to the research we are doing. Which is important when you're doing an invasive procedure like artificial insemination on a 400-pound tiger."