Two critically endangered Amur Tiger cubs, born to four-year-old tigress Minerva, have been welcomed at Woburn Safari Park, in Bedfordshire, UK.
These tiny tigers, born September 17th, are amongst the largest and rarest cats in the world. The new cubs signify an important achievement not just for the Park, but also for the international breeding programme of this threatened species.
The as-yet unsexed cubs are the first to be born at Woburn Safari Park in 23 years, arriving in the bespoke Tiger House and weighing in at a healthy 800-1200 grams (1.8 to 2.6 lbs.). First time mum Minerva is understandably protective of her new babies and the Park is delighted that she has taken to motherhood brilliantly, remaining settled and calm.
The proud new mum and her two cubs are all together in a special private den, away from the public, with as little disturbance and noise as possible. The cubs will start to explore the 9-acre tiger reserve in early 2016, until then they will continue to be under the constant watchful eye of mum.
Genetically, Minerva is ranked as the 7th most important female in the captive tiger population across Europe; with the cubs’ dad, Elton, the two are a very important genetic match that has been coordinated by the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP).
There are 326 Amur Tigers (also referred to as the Siberian tiger) in captivity across Europe and Russia, and only approximately 520 in the wild – a slight increase in wild numbers in the last 10 years.
Jo Cook, Co-ordinator at Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance and also species co-ordinator for the European breeding programme (Europe & Russia) commented, “This is the first litter for Minerva and Elton and so far she’s doing a great job as a new mum, although there is still a lot for her to learn. These cubs will make an important contribution to the European breeding programme for Amur Tigers, as Minerva in particular is genetically very important and doesn't have many relatives in the population.”
“Maintaining a healthy captive population of Amur Tigers in zoos and parks is important because they act as an insurance population and can be used for reintroductions should that become a necessary conservation action to support wild Amur Tigers. The tigers in captivity also help raise awareness and inspire visitors to do what they can to support these projects that are protecting these amazing animals in the Russian Far East and northeast China. Not only is Woburn Safari Park playing a role in the Amur Tiger breeding programme, but it is also raising funds for the Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance which supports conservation activities such as anti-poaching and population monitoring in Russia and China.”
Woburn Safari Park is home to five Amur Tigers: two females – Minerva and Neurka, one male - Elton, and the two new cubs. Their home in ‘Kingdom of the Carnivores’ is a specially designed nine-acre enclosure complete with sleeping platforms and bathing pools, as they are the only big cats that like water.
The Amur Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), also known as the Siberian Tiger, is a subspecies inhabiting mainly the Sikhote Alin mountain region with a small population in southwest Primorye Province in the Russian Far East.
The Amur and Bengal subspecies rank among the biggest living cats. Modern day Amur Tigers are lighter than Bengals.
Amur Tigers mate at any time of the year. Gestation lasts from 3 to 3 ½ months. Litter size is usually two or four cubs, but there can be as many as six. The cubs are born blind in a sheltered den and are left alone when the female leaves to hunt for food. Female cubs remain with their mothers longer than males. Female cubs will also establish territories close their mother and birth range.
The official status of the Amur Tiger is “Endangered”, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The main threat continues to be poaching. The wild population is also affected by civil wars disrupting their native habitat, deforestation, and development of rural areas for humans. An improvement in local economies has led to greater resources being invested in conservation efforts for the tiger; however, an increase in economic activity has led to an increased rate of development and deforestation. A major obstacle in preserving the species is the enormous territory individual tigers require. It has been estimated that up to 450 sq km (about 174 sq miles) is needed by a single female and even more for a male.