Kunming Zoo in Yunnan province has promised to improve the way it manages its tigers during mating season after a fatal fight between two males over the weekend.
Maomao, a Siberian tiger, suffocated on Saturday as a Bengal tiger named Xiaohu held him by the throat at about 10:40 am. Keepers separated the animals shortly after being alerted to the fight.
Footage of the incident uploaded online on Sunday shows Maomao lying on grass in the tiger enclosure's nursery area. He does not react when tapped with a long pole.
The tigers were part of a mixed-breeding program and shared an enclosure with one female and another male, according to Yang Ge, head of the zoo's administration office. Maomao was 18 years old; Xiaohu is 14.
"Small bites often occur, but not too serious," he said. "However, this time, when one tiger attacked the other, something serious happened. In about one minute, one tiger was suffocated by another.
"We intervened. But it was too late," Yang said.
Yang said fights over food and mates are normal among tigers. It's possible that the two animals were fighting because it was mating season.
The two had fought before, but the altercations were minor and quickly resolved, Yang said. The zoo staff didn't expect such a serious consequence this time.
"We planned to make some housing area adjustments according to the tigers' ages during the mating season," Yang said. "We can also make some adjustments based on the tigers' sex."
He said no such incidents had occurred before at the zoo.