By Ashley Yeaman
At 11 weeks old, two Sumatran tiger cubs have made their debut at the Cameron Park Zoo.
The siblings, 16-pound female Indah and 22-pound male Bugara, will now be on public display each day at 2 p.m., weather permitting.
The tiger cubs enjoy their freedom outdoors and, like many young siblings, frequently wrestle and play together.
The cubs will continue to be closely monitored by their caretakers while in the exhibit to ensure they do not to fall into the stream or deep pond, which are more designed for the adult tigers,.
Terri Cox, curator of programs and exhibits at the zoo, said the tigers are healthy and have been progressing well, but initially the cubs were in danger because of their mother.
Indah was born Aug. 15 to first-time mother Maharani, a 5-year-old, 206-pound Sumatran tiger, but was rejected at birth, Cox said.
“We always have people on birth watch here at the zoo, so the keeper that was watching saw that there was some distress,” Cox said. “When she saw the mother actually throw the cub, she shifted the mother tiger to another area so she could retrieve the infant.”
One-pound, 5-ounce Indah was injured and non-responsive after the incident and had to be resuscitated in a moment Cox described as “intense.”
Cox said rejection and injury of young frequently happen with Sumatran tigers as well as other animals.
“It’s pretty common in captivity, but can also happen in the wild,” Cox said. “We know in zoos a lot of the first litters — the mom isn’t emotionally equipped to deal with it. Generally, the mother may be stressed by the birth process, or there could be some other outside stressor. There could also be a problem with the cub that causes them to reject it.”
Zookeepers said they hoped that having gone through the experience once, she might accept her second cub— two-pound, five-ounce Bugara, born Aug. 16. Unfortunately, he too was rejected, Cox said.
“[Maharani] just didn’t pay any attention to him at all,” Cox said. “She didn’t clean him up, nothing.”
At this point, zookeepers, who were already caring for Indah, took Bugara in as well. The cubs were under 24-hour care at the zoo’s veterinary facilities.
Although Bugara was and remains healthy, Indah has battled a sinus infection since shortly after her birth.
Despite Indah’s difficult beginnings, zookeeper Rachel Anderson said she has proven to be “resilient and independent.”
Animal care manager of mammals Manda Butler said despite their rocky start, the cubs have been reaching all of their milestones.
“I’ve hand-reared several animals over the years, and these guys have been really great,” Butler said. “They’re doing very well.”
At birth, the tiger cubs were bottle-fed every four hours and were under constant care.
They have been gradually weaned off the bottle and are now being bottle-fed only twice a day. Meat has also been introduced to their diets, and at 12 weeks it will be their only staple.
Butler said hand-rearing is an exhausting and challenging experience. Especially when the cubs were younger, she said she and the other zookeepers would often leave at the end of their shifts with scratches on their arms.
“It’s rewarding. It’s demanding,” Butler said. “It really pushes all of us to the extreme.”
But at this stage in their lives, the cubs are now strong enough to be more independent, Cox said.
“They’re very focused on humans since they’re hand-reared cats, and we’re gradually trying to introduce them to the exhibit to make them focus more on each other and their habitat, because as they get larger, they’ll be too big for us to safely handle,” Cox said.
Although it is preferred for mothers to raise their cubs, Coxsaid she believes the situation worked out for the best.
“It’s good that they have each other because it would be much harder on a single cub reacclimating,” Cox said. “When there’s a pair, they get to have all their tiger behaviors together.”
Cox said the cubs will be shifted in and out of the display with their parents because there’s too much of a risk of keeping them all together in the display.
The cubs could be potentially injured by their parents in rough play.
But, the father, 3-year-old, 350-pound Kucing, seemed to approve of his young by chuffing, a sound tigers make to greet one another, when the cubs were briefly brought into the exhibit Oct. 27.
Maharani still wanted nothing to do with them, but this is not surprising, Cox said, because it is extremely rare that a tiger will accept her cubs after initial rejection.
But Indah and Bugara chuffed back at both their parents when they saw them.
Although the public now has the opportunity to see the cubs as they continue to grow, Butler is grateful that she was one of the few that saw their initial development behind the scenes.
“It’s fun to see their milestones. [The zookeepers] feel like this mushed-together family that we’re constantly [saying], ‘They opened their eyes!’ ‘We have teeth!’” Butler said. “It’s four o’clock in the morning, and I’m sending picture text messages to them. And I know I have to work the next day, but it’s just such a miraculous thing that it doesn’t matter that you’re tired — it’s just so exciting.”