Remarkably, Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo’s ten-year-old Amur Tiger, Changbai, gave birth to four cubs on November 25.
However, only two survived. When keepers observed Changbai showing little interest in caring for the two surviving females, the cubs were removed and taken into the care of the keepers.
Zoo staff members were aware of the Changbai’s pregnancy through fecal hormone testing, and had been keeping a 24-hour watch on the expectant mom. A female tiger at the age of ten has only a twenty percent change of a successful pregnancy, so good husbandry and a quick response from the animal care team makes a difference. When Zoo staff saw that the first-born kitten unresponsive, and that Changbai was not interested in grooming or nursing the remaining kittens, a decision was made to remove them to begin feeding. A second kitten died later that first night.
Zoo veterinarians and animal care staff have since been providing around the clock care and supervision for the remaining cubs, named Reka and Zeya. The two kittens’ survival is an important step forward in maintaining the genetic diversity of Amur Tigers worldwide, an endangered species that is rapidly disappearing from the wild.
Amur Tigers (Panthera tigris altaica), also known as Siberian Tigers, are very rare. According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) statistics, today’s Tigers are thought to occupy less than seven percent of their original range: Korea, north-eastern China, Russian Far East, and eastern Mongolia. They are currently classified as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List. Threatened by habitat loss and degradation, poaching, tiger-human conflict, and loss of prey, four of nine subspecies have disappeared from the wild just in the past hundred years. The future of the Amur Tiger has been a major concern of the world’s zoos for many years.
All Tigers now have protected status in the wild, but that doesn’t guarantee their safety. A breeding program recommendation comes from the Species Survival Plan (SSP), administered by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in accredited zoos. Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo is home to the parents: male, Petya, and female, Changbai, who joined the Zoo family last winter. Managed by the SSP, inter-regional transfers are arranged with careful attention to gene diversity in the hope that successful breeding will take place.
The Zoo recently announced that a webcam was installed in the nursery of Reka and Zeya, and it is now streaming images in real time, all thanks to Zoo sponsor, Blue Buffalo. Viewers can enjoy watching the cubs live from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. The cubcam is set up in the nursery in the Zoo’s on-site Animal Health Care Center, where the two sisters have been cared for since their birth. To view the cubs, visit the Zoo website at: www.beardsleyzoo.org/tiger-cam/ .
The Zoo recently launched a fundraising campaign through The Impact Vine to raise funds for the planning and design of a renovated Tiger habitat, raising more than $5,000 in a record six days. Donations are still being accepted for enlargement and enhancements to the habitat, which can be made through a link on the cubcam page. There has been intense interest in the cubs, which has helped to raise awareness about endangered species around the world.