Five critically endangered Amur Tigers were born at the Saint Louis Zoo on April 28, 2008. The five cubs – two males and three females – are with their mother “Kalista” in an off-display indoor maternity den at Big Cat Country. They weigh between 4.5 and 7 pounds each. The mom and cubs are not on display at this time.
Although this is Kalista’s first litter, she is proving to be an excellent mother. Normal litter size for a tigress is two or three cubs. However, as many as six cubs have been documented. With a litter this size, Kalista is definitely kept busy nursing and caring for her cubs.
“It is so rare to have a litter of this size,” says Steve Bircher, curator of mammals at the Saint Louis Zoo. Two of the female cubs lost weight and were somewhat weaker than the other three after birth. They have been given supplemental feedings and special care by the veterinary and animal care staff but have remained with their mother. “We are thrilled she is doing such a great job,” adds Bircher.
Meet the Parents
Kalista is seven years old and came to the Saint Louis Zoo from the Philadelphia Zoo in 2003. Khuntami, the 15-year-old father, was born in the wilds of eastern Russia and arrived in St. Louis from the Omaha Zoo in 2006. He is considered one of the most genetically valuable tigers in North America.
The Zoo’s Amur tigers, formerly called Siberian tigers, are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP). The Tiger SSP is responsible for maintaining a genetically healthy population of tigers in North American zoos – the Amur, Sumatran and Malayan subspecies of tigers. There are approximately 300 tigers in the Tiger SSP and fewer than 500 living in small populations of far eastern Russia and northeast China. Loss of habitat due to logging activities, human encroachment and poaching are the main threats to their survival in the wild.
The family group will remain off public display in the maternity den for about three months. This will allow the cubs to grow large enough to handle the obstacles they will face when introduced to their outdoor habitat later this summer. The cubs have not yet been named.
Khuntami, who does not share in the cub rearing responsibilities, will be on display at Big Cat Country during this time.