Cubs come out scratching

Cubs come out scratching

STEVE BUTCHER
May 6, 2010

MELBOURNE zoo’s latest Sumatran tiger cubs are a beautiful set of cuddly numbers from an important statistical, genetical and environmental alignment.

Ramalon, a 14-year-old resident male, and his Dutch-born mate Binjai, half his age, produced one more than offspring than they did in 2006, which was the zoo’s first litter in 16 years.

Their first meetings four years ago were tense, teasing encounters, temporarily halted before more successful couplings. This time, the supervised introductions began just after Ramalon’s birthday in October last year and ran just three days – but achieved more than 170 successful matings.

This was a prodigious, if exhausting, effort by two big cats for the greater good of the captive and critically endangered wild populations – and, clearly, for their own well-being and enrichment.

On February 9, Binjai delivered two females, Rani and Indrah, and two males, Hutan and Aceh, after a gestation of about 100 days.

The kittens, a hissing, struggling and scratching handful, yesterday emerged for the cameras during a check-up and vaccinations.

They are an important addition to the international captive breeding program for the species, and one sanctioned for the now self-sustaining Australasian region.

Two of the tigers’ surviving first litter are at Tooronga Western Plains Zoo, awaiting breeding recommendations.

His reproductive status reconfirmed, Ramalon now may roam on loan to other zoos, while Binjai – her genetics of high importance to the program – will rear her cubs.

The zoo’s general curator, Dan Maloney, said the educative and pulling power of the cubs was obvious, but their arrival also enhances a campaign to highlight the invasive and wild habitat-destroying expansion of palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia. The zoo has an online petition to change laws to enable consumers to identify products using palm oil.

”The images of our zoo animals, like tigers, orang-utans and elephants, line our grounds and help us interpret what’s happening to their wild cousins,” Mr Maloney said.

While Binjai’s time will be focused on her family, Ramalon, like other males, will play no part in their upbringing, content to enjoy a squirt of morning milk and the odd chew on Chinese mint.

Video also at:

http://www.smh.com.au/victoria/cubs-come-out-scratching-20100505-uaow.html

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