Tiger Cubs Born At Wildlife Safari Aid Conservation Efforts
On Saturday, July 10, 2021, Riya uncharacteristically refused her dinner. For Sarah Huse, Carnivore Supervisor, this meant the birthing process had begun for the Sumatran tiger.
From that evening to the next morning, staff took shifts watching the remote video feed in their office to monitor Riya’s progress. Every adjustment of position. Every contraction.
When the first cub was born the staff high-fived each other. But the real hurdle was whether or not the tiger would clean off the cub’s sack so it could breathe.
Riya’s motherly instincts kicked-in immediately.
The next cub should have arrived about 30 minutes later. However, when more than five hours passed and contractions stopped, Huse knew she needed to consult another tiger expert.
Wildlife Safari is known for breeding cheetahs, but this is the first tiger litter born at the park since the early 80s.
This work starts in zoos, and can help save wild populations.
“With cheetahs being the example,” said Huse. “We’re within a couple years of actually artificially inseminating some wild females with genetics we’ve bred here in the North American cheetah population.”
According to the AZA Tiger SSP, four of the nine subspecies of tiger have disappeared from the wild in the last century. Sumatran tigers are only found on the island of Sumatra and have fewer than 500 left in the wild.
Wildlife Safari joined the Tiger SSP five years ago, specifically working with Sumatran tigers.
Wildlife Safari bred their Sumatran Tigers four times before having success. Riya and her sister Kemala had both been artificially inseminated before a male named Dumai was brought to the park to try natural breeding, which can be extremely dangerous.
“If you don’t put them together at the exact right time, they can be horribly aggressive,” said Huse. “Zoos have had very tragic accidents trying to do tiger introductions.”
Riya and Kemala liked Dumai right away, so Huse felt confident in giving the introductions a try.
“Our girls were always flirting with him and chuffing, which is a friendly tiger greeting,” Huse said.
The attempt with Kemala was unsuccessful, but Riya got pregnant with two cubs.
Only one other Sumatran cub has been born in the SSP program in the last four years.
While Huse discussed Riya’s situation - stopping contractions with another cub still in the womb - with the other specialist, the conversation turned to the weather.
Even though tigers average 30-40 minutes between cubs, having extreme weather - cold or hot - can slow the birthing process.
“They were right,” said Huse. “That evening, as soon as the temps started cooling off, contractions started again.”
The second cub was born about 10 hours after the first.
The cubs are now three weeks old and over seven pounds. The female is named Phoebe and the male is Luhahn.
Both have been consistently gaining about 100 grams per day compared to cheetahs who only gain about 10-40 grams per day.
“These guys are just like fat, little potatoes,” Huse said. “Huge, full milk bellies all the time.”
Right now, the carnivore team is taking daily measurements and working to make the cubs comfortable with their presence. This helps lessen the stress the animals experience during regular health check-ups as adults.
At the moment, the cubs are staying in their hut when mom goes out to stretch her legs. They only opened their eyes last week.
When the cubs are able to climb over the eight inch board at the hut entrance, this means they are strong enough to follow mom in and out without the carnivore team worrying. At that point, the cubs will be visible to the public.
This will likely happen in mid-august. Until then, the cubs can be seen on Wildlife Safari’s Facebook page.
“We’ve, knock on wood, had the best first experience with tiger cubs that we could hope for,” said Huse.