Auckland and Hamilton zoos will pull a striped switch tomorrow.
Male Sumatran tigers Oz and Jaka will travel in opposite directions down State Highway 1 to swap homes in a bid to help further the international breeding programme for the critically-endangered big cat.
The key move is for nine-year-old Oz - who relocated from Tel Aviv to Auckland in 2006 and fathered Auckland Zoo's first tiger cubs in 2008 - to Hamilton Zoo to be paired with five-year-old Sali.
Due to poaching, loss of habitat from illegal logging and expansion of the palm oil industry there are now fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers remaining in the wild.
Zoos throughout Australasia, America, Europe, Japan and Indonesia are working together to manage an insurance population of Sumatran tigers - at present about 300 animals.
Both Oz and Jaka have been trained to walk into custom-built crates for their respective 90-minute road trips.
The day-long operation will see Oz transported to Hamilton Zoo late morning, with Auckland Zoo keepers returning with Jaka in the afternoon.
Hamilton Zoo curator Samantha Kudeweh said staff were excited about their first opportunity to contribute to the conservation effort.
"Sali is a very popular tiger with all who get to know her. She is a lovely playful young female, and we're very hopeful that she'll prove to be a good mother," Kudeweh said.
Auckland Zoo's carnivore team leader Bruce Murdock said the move was a great team effort for a species that urgently needed all the help it could get.
Following his quarantine at Auckland Zoo, Jaka would be on public display about Christmas, he said.
Kudeweh said Oz would be on public display within a few days of his arrival, and breeding plans would progress slowly throughout 2014, led by the behaviour of both tigers.
- © Fairfax NZ News