A Bengal tiger is reported to have smothered a fellow tiger to death at a Chinese zoo after the two cats engaged in a fight over the weekend. The big cats were thought to have possibly been fighting because it was mating season.

Maomao, an 18-year-old Siberian tiger, died after being attacked by Xiaohu, 14, at Kunming Zoo in China's Yunnan Province on Saturday, zoo officials said on Monday (7 August).

The big cats had been caged together at the time of the incident and Xiaohu reportedly bit Maomao on his neck.

The zoo staff were immediately alerted about the fight by onlookers. But efforts by them to save the Siberian tiger ended up being futile as Maomao asphyxiated minutes later, according to the Global Times.

Chief of Kunming Zoo Management Section, Yang Ge, said the keepers initially thought the tigers were engaged in a casual fight as it was "normal for tigers to fight". Tigers are believed to fight over food and mates.

"It was most likely that they were fighting for mates," Yang was quoted as saying by the Straits Times.

"Small bites often occur, but not too serious. However, this time, when one tiger attacked the other, something serious happened. In about one minute, one tiger was suffocated by another. We intervened. But it was too late," he added.

He also said that this was not the first time Maomao and Xiaohu fought, but previous instances of jousting were minor and quickly resolved, he said. This is the first that a fatal fight has been reported at the zoo, he added.

Zoo officials promised to improve the way they manage tigers in Kunming especially during mating season. "We planned to make some housing area adjustments according to the tigers' ages during the mating season," Yang said. "We can also make some adjustments based on the tigers' sex."

Tigers are believed to be usually fighting over food and mates ~ file photo Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images