After they were ignored by their mother following their birth on February 3, three Malayan Tiger cubs have been cared for by Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s nursery staff. Now, the cubs’ care team includes the zoo’s four-legged, resident nursery companion and former nanny to several zoo babies: Blakely the Australian Shepherd Dog. The six-year-old super-dog has been called into action to provide snuggling, comfort, and a body for the cubs to climb on.
“He’s more than just a large, warm pillow for the cubs. Blakely is the adult in the room. He teaches them proper Tiger etiquette by checking them when they’re getting too rough or aggressive,” said Dawn Strasser, head of Cincinnati Zoo’s nursery staff. “This is something that their human surrogates can’t do.”
Photo Credits: Mark Dumont, DJJam, Lisa Hubbard
The cubs, named Chira (because she was treated by a chiropractor), Batari (which means goddess) and Izzy (which means promised by God,) would have received similar cues from their mom. Because being with her is not an option, Blakely is the next best thing. His baby-rearing resume includes experience with Cheetahs, an Ocelot, a Takin, a Warthog, Wallabies, Skunks, and Bat-eared Foxes. Last year, to recognize Blakely’s nurturing nature, the City of Cincinnati proclaimed October 19 to be Blakely Day!
“My team can feed and care for the Tiger cubs, but we can’t teach them the difference between a play bite and one that means ‘watch out’. So, that’s Blakely’s job,” said Strasser. “Just a little time with him at this early age will help them learn behaviors that will come in handy when they meet Tigers at other zoos in the future.” The cubs will move to the Zoo’s Cat Canyon this summer after they have received their last round of immunizations.
Malayan Tigers are Critically Endangered, with fewer than 250 breeding-age adults living in the wild. Less than 100 of these Cats live in zoos, making these three cubs – and Blakely’s job as caregiver – incredibly important to the effort to save Malayan Tigers.
See more photos of Blakely and the Tiger cubs below.