Chinese zoo tiger began life with canine wet nurse

(China Daily)
Updated: 2007-03-08 11:06

SHANGHAI: Kang Kang, a large, 3-year-old Siberian tiger, seems to be living like a king at Shanghai Wildlife Park. Yet this fierce-looking tiger was once raised as a harmless puppy – literally.

Kang Kang has won the respect of the park’s 60 keepers, both for his fierceness and his valiant efforts to remain leader of the big cat pack.

Every day he enjoys chasing after live chickens before pouncing on them and turning them into a taste treat.

Yet few tourists know from looking at this beautiful king that, as a cub, he ate more like a pauper. Kang Kang was too weak to suck his own mother’s milk and nearly died from starvation.

However, thanks to surrogate milk supplied by a mother dog named Ba Lu, Kang Kang survived.

Ba Lu had matched all the requirements which the park had made in choosing a naima (a breast milk-feeding mother) for Kang Kang: She gave birth to puppies within one week, was rich in milk supply, and was also tame. She beat out a dozen other candidates to become Kang Kang’s temporary mother.

Tiger specialists at the park cleaned the newborn Kang Kang and coated him with puppy’s urine so that Ba Lu would mistake the cub for her own baby and cherish him. Every day, Ba Lu breast-fed Kang Kang, licked his fur clean, and accompanied him whenever he walked around the tiger den, as she did with her other puppies.

As Kang Kang developed a bigger appetite and Ba Lu’s milk no longer met his demands, the park keepers began feeding the 2-month-old cub fresh slabs of beef. Soon, little Kang Kang caught up with the development process of his tiger brothers and sisters. It was only a matter of time before he became the head of the family.

But in fact, Kang Kang is not the only tiger in the park who has had a dog for a mother.

The park introduced the practice in 1997. Every year the park would look for a dog naima to feed newly born cubs of tigers, lions, wolves and leopards that could not get sufficient milk from their mothers for various reasons.

“So far, dog milk is widely believed as the best food we could find for these newborn cubs as its nutritional component is identical to that in carnivorous beasts’ milk,” said Su Feilong, spokesman for Shanghai Wildlife Park.

Ba Lu has deeply impressed the park staff. She has been invited to the park four times to breast-feed animals and has fed 12 Siberian tiger cubs in five years, Su said.

A mammal researcher from Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, who prefers to remain anonymous, said that some female animals in the park have gradually lost their maternal instincts and refuse to look after cubs. What’s more, the survival rate of newborn cubs in the park is much higher than of those in the wild. Sometimes the mother is too exhausted to look after all the cubs, so she abandons some.

“The park should respect this natural selection,” the researcher said. “They should spend their limited resources on the fittest cubs, instead of the congenitally deficient ones, in a bid to improve the overall quality of the family.”

With Kang Kang, it certainly turned out well. Dog mother or not, he’s the king.

(China Daily 03/08/2007 page4)

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2007-03/08/content_822856.htm

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