A one-year-old Amur tiger that died in Winnipeg on Aug. 27 was part of a program aimed at saving the species.

“Every one of these animals can be traced back to the wild and their genetics are extremely valuable,” said Tim Sinclair-Smith, director of zoological operations at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

The tiger, named Reka, was born in July 2011 alongside another cub.  

“It is with great sadness that the Assiniboine Park Zoo announces that one of its Amur (tigers), Reka, passed away this morning,” said zoo officials in a release on Monday.

Officials said Reka could have fathered 20 to 30 cubs in his lifetime as part of the survival program aimed at diversifying the genetics of tigers.

“Now all those numbers that could have potentially been part of the species survival program (are) gone forever,” said Sinclair-Smith.

Staff started monitoring Reka on Aug. 26 as he had a reduced appetite, appeared lethargic and had a discharge from his eyes.

He was scheduled for a full exam Monday morning but stopped breathing after being tranquilized for the exam and went into cardiac arrest before dying shortly before 10 a.m. Monday, said zoo officials.

"Unfortunately, before we could even get going on diagnostics, he stopped breathing and we were unable to resuscitate him," said Dr. Chris Enright, head of veterinary services for the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

On Monday, the zoo put out a statement saying it was too early to make a definitive diagnosis on the cause of death, but explaining early indicators pointed towards some form of infectious disease.

"Something like canine distemper that occurs naturally in the wild - raccoons can make tigers sick and that's something we're looking at," said Enright.

The other tigers at the zoo have been put into quarantine until officials determine the cause of Reka's death.

Under the quarantine, only certain staff are allowed to work with the other tigers to prevent the possible spread of any infection or disease.

Sinclair-Smith said there are only 300 to 400 of the tigers left in the wild. With illegal hunting still taking place, the species could face extinction.

“If they do get wiped out there, their last hope is with us,” said Sinclair-Smith.

Officials said Monday they hope to have a full report on the cause of Reka’s death within the next 10 to 14 days.