COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) — Officials with the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo announced that an endangered Amur tiger died after an artificial insemination procedure last week. Officials said the death of the 9-year-old female named Savelii is “deeply sad.”

(credit: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo)

“As caretakers of endangered and threatened species, we have to walk a fine line between doing the right things for the individual animals in our care, but also making hard decisions for the future of the species, both in the wild and in human care,” Bob Chastain, president and CEO of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo,

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“Natural breeding for tigers can be precarious, because the breeding behaviors are often aggressive, including the male biting the back of the female’s neck,” Chastain explained. “[W]e decided on artificial insemination as the safest way to safeguard this amazing species of Amur tiger from extinction.”

(credit: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo)

“Much hope hinged on the outcome of this procedure,” Chastain stated.

Numbers in the wild remain treacherously low — at around 500. The numbers in human care, at zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) in the U.S. and Canada, hover near just 100 individuals.

Chastain said Savelii passed due to complications during recovery from procedure.

(credit: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo)

“Due to the global importance of this procedure, seven veterinarians were on hand for the procedure, as well as reproductive biologists, and representatives from three AZA-accredited zoos and one university,” Chastain said.

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In an emotional letter, Chastain said that all animal deaths have a profound impact on the keepers who care for them, but said a “death like Savelii’s can be more soul-shaking than others, which are often preceded by illness, chronic medical issues or advanced age.”

(credit: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo)

“In the moments after she passed, I approached Savelii’s side to touch her as she slipped from this world to the next. I thought to myself: ‘This is a tiger.’ ‘This is a tiger lying here,'” Chastain wrote.

“I looked at her long and amazing body, her huge 2-inch-long white teeth, and her pie-plate-sized paws. I saw her hair was shaved for the surgery site. There, on her skin, were the stripes that were once hair. The same stripes you see on their fur translate all the way through the skin. They read in tones for black and a blush pink. I don’t know why that mattered in that moment, except that animals and nature are amazing and magical.”

Chastain described Savelii as “spunky and playful.”

“Savelii will be missed immensely. But our sadness is not only for the loss of a beautiful individual, but also sadness for the loss suffered for the Amur tiger species as a whole,” he stated.

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In an effort to have something positive come from the loss of Savelii, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo will offer a $34,000 community challenge. They will match each dollar raised up to $34,000 to go directly to tiger conservation. You can give at cmzoo.org/tiger.