Rare Amur tiger cub fights to survive at SD zoo
By WAYNE ORTMAN (AP) – August 8, 2009
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The rare 3-week-old Amur tiger cub’s eyes haven’t completely opened yet, her belly bulges and her paws seem too large for her tiny head.
She is the lone survivor of a litter of six born last month at a South Dakota zoo — and workers there are doing everything they can to keep her alive. The orange- and black-striped cub gets a baby’s bottle filled with milk formula several times of day and spends her time in a darkened room inside a plastic tote bag with a heating pad and stuffed toy animal.
“We don’t want her to get the idea that she’s not a tiger,” said Elizabeth Whealy, the CEO and president of the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls.
The cub, which has doubled her weight since birth to five pounds, was born along with five siblings July 18-19 as part of a nationwide captive Amur breeding program. Also known as the Siberian tiger, the Amur is one of the world’s rarest species and the largest of the big cats, weighing up to 500 pounds. There are believed to be about 400 of the critically endangered animals in the wild.
Two of the cub’s siblings were stillborn. Necropsies determined another died soon after birth from a ruptured bowel. A week later, one died of kidney failure and another of fluid in the lungs and abdomen.
Tiger expert Ron Tilson said the deaths are not surprising given the unusually large litter and the fact that it was the first pregnancy for 6-year-old Vika.
“That is really extraordinary because for the life of me I can’t ever remember six cubs being born,” said Tilson, director of conservation at the Minnesota Zoo and coordinator of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan for tigers.
During a feeding this week, the cub gives off a chuffle — a greeting noise — as a zoo worker held her bottle and rubbed her with a wet rag to stimulate her mother’s licking. First-time mothers like Vika are notorious for having difficulty either giving birth or nurturing their litter, Tilson said.
“Once a female gets through her first litter they become successively much better at raising the cubs and the survival rate goes way up,” Tilson said.
Whealy said the cub will be moved out of the veterinary care building and put on public display in three or four months.