By Bejay Browne
THE FIRST Siberian tiger cubs to be born and reared by their parents in Cyprus are doing well, according to the curator of Pafos Zoo.
Parents, Bonnie and Clyde, who arrived at the zoo as part of an animal exchange a few years ago, are looking after their three-month-old cubs on their own, and fears that the mother would reject the cubs, as she did with a previous cub born last year, have proved unfounded, said chief curator Michael Pittas.
Lara, a female cub and the first to be born in Cyprus, had to be hand reared and fed every few hours with a special formula after her mother rejected her, leaving her outside in the cold.
However, Bonnie didn’t reject the latest arrivals, and the four tigers are living together in an enclosure at the zoo.
“We knew that Bonnie was pregnant and she gave birth on August 20 to two cubs. We monitored them closely as we were concerned, we could only hear one at first,” said Pittas.
Siberian or Amur tigers are facing extinction in the wild, with only close to 400 left.
Thirty-four-year-old Simon Holley, who is in charge of the zoo’s public relations and marketing, said that the zoo had been particularly concerned as the mother had rejected Lara.
“We waited a week and Bonnie hadn’t come out of the house, so we figured she had given birth. We didn’t want to go in or to touch the babies, even now, as this may lead to the mother rejecting them and they are still feeding from her.”
The curator said that although it wouldn’t be usual for the parents and the cubs to all live together in the wild, the family won’t be separated yet, as they are all doing well as a group. They all play together and the youngsters have started climbing trees in their enclosure, said Pittas.
“Bonnie and Clyde are not aggressive and are a close pair as they were born in captivity and have always been together. In the wild, they wouldn’t live like this, but there are no problems and Clyde is a good Dad.”
Holley described how Bonnie was recently annoyed when she saw Clyde cleaning his cubs.
“Bonnie didn’t really like it, so she came and picked them up and carefully carried them to another area to clean them herself. But Clyde likes to get involved with them and that’s not something that you would see in the wild, as it’s not typical behaviour.”
The animals opened their eyes after a few weeks and ventured out of their shelter and their carers saw them walking around in the enclosure
“We don’t know if they are male or female yet and we will probably have to sex them by sight as we don’t want to touch them unless there’s a medical reason or we had to intervene in a fight,” said Pittas.
The cub’s parents are fed around 24 kilos of chicken, beef and goat every two days and the cubs have already started to eat some of that, he said.
Holley said that the idea of any breeding of Siberian tigers born in captivity is to introduce a new blood line, as they are an endangered species.
Eventually, he said, the aim is to repopulate the wild, but this is not an easy task. For example, Lara would never be able to be released as she has been hand reared, but there is a better chance for the two new cubs.
“It’s not as easy as taking tigers to the wild and letting them go. They have to be prepared for this, and many tests have to be done to check blood and genes to prevent any mutations which could wipe out what’s left of them in the wild.”
Holley explained how the keepers, like in most zoos, will often create ‘cardboard animals’ to encourage natural behaviour. The tigers will pull them apart and get their reward of fresh meat inside. The keepers also put down fresh Lama faeces, which helps to stimulate the tiger’s senses. They also have a feeding pole which they have to climb to get their meat which encourages them to be physical.
“This is how they are fed rather than getting their food on a plate. All zoos should encourage natural behaviour and find things for the animals to do which will break up the routine.”
The curator said that it’s too early to predict what will happen to the new cubs. They may be transferred to another zoo or go into one of the programmes to assist the wild population, he said.
“For now though, they will stay here, and when we know their sexes we will ask the public to name them.”