KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and Zoo Knoxville is hoping to make a love connection.

For some, Valentine’s Day is all about candy and cards and spending the day with people you care about. But for the animals at Zoo Knoxville, it’s not quite that simple. Malayan tigers, Batari and Tahan, have been set up by zoo keepers as a potential couple. However, trainers can’t just take the two wild cats on a date. They can’t even leave them alone in an enclosure yet as they’ll probably get into a fight.

“They are solitary animals, solitary hunters. They would only come together while the females in estrus if they ran into each other while she’s not in that sort of mood, they are going to fight over territory,” said TC Smith, an Asian Trek Zoo Keeper.

This is where the howdy door comes into play. It’s a steel door with a small window and holes. It allows the two cats can make eye contact, smell each other, and even make noises to each other. Smith adds that Batari has been very receptive when she catches a glimpse of Tahan.

“We also like to watch all the behaviors that she exhibits during a cycle, whether that’s rolling or writhing on the ground, that’s gonna be an indicator that there’s some good sensory things going on for them,” said Smith.

Once handlers notice they’re in good spirits, Batari and Tahan will be allowed to finally meet one on one. It’s a slow process, but one that zoo keepers say is critical to help this endangered species survive.

“There are estimated anywhere between 200 and 400 Malayan Tigers left in the world. In the wild, huge issues are habitat destruction, the encroachment of humanity into the spaces that were there. And if we don’t care for and protect and breed the Malayan tigers that we have, we will eventually reach a point that they no longer exist on the planet,” said Smith.

Batari traveled a long way in hopes that the match would work out. In January 2022, the tiger had to be driven cross-country from San Diego to Knoxville. Tahan is also a new arrival to Zoo Knoxville. He arrived in Jan. 2023. Malayan tigers are often moved from zoo to zoo in hopes of making a match. The Species Survival Plan works to match animals together to ensure the long-term sustainability of endangered animals within Association of Zoos and Aquariums facilities.

“It is such an honor to be able to work with them at all. To be able to help continue the population for the next generation, that’s huge. That’s why I love what I do. It’s not just about working with animals, it’s about lighting up the eyes of people who come in contact with those animals emotionally. It’s about changing the world and making it a better place for the next generation,” said Smith.

According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, there are fewer than 70 Malayan tigers in zoos around the world. The hope is that the Species Survival Plan developed by the Tiger Conservation Campaign will help keep the animal around for many years to come.