News & Politics

A Sex Tiger Came to Washington Last Year, and Wow, He’s Been Busy

Sparky. Photograph courtesy Smithsonian National Zoo.

It’s been exactly one year since the Smithsonian announced that the National Zoo had taken in a 12-year-old male Sumatran tiger named Sparky, for the sole purpose of getting him to breed with a female counterpart as part of a species survival program. Sumatran tigers are critically endangered, with only 300 to 400 specimens estimated worldwide.

But as of last month, there was one more at the National Zoo when its resident female tiger, eight-year-old Damai, gave birth to a male cub. The cub, which hasn’t been named yet, was born July 11. The little guy is Damai’s second litter—she previously birthed a pair of cubs in 2014—and the first sired by Sparky.

Sparky and Damai were introduced last September, and responded well to each other, according to the Smithsonian. Their pens share a mesh barrier—called the “howdy door”—which keepers used to observe if the tigers were visually compatible. Once it was apparent the two cats were interested in breeding, zoo staff gave them “opportunities” to enjoy each other’s physical company in the indoor tiger habitat. The tigers bred several times in February and March.

Well done, Sparky!

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.