Seattle zoo takes over care of tiger cub when mom loses interest


SEATTLE — JoJo has raised three sets of cubs, feeding them, keeping her babies and their surroundings clean and teaching them to take care of themselves. Her fourth cycle of parenthood has been more of a challenge for the Sumatran tiger mom.

“She’s a great tiger,” said Kelly Helmick, the Woodland Park Zoo’s interim director of animal health, said about JoJo, 15. “But she’s at the reproductive end of her lifespan. It’s possible that because of age, JoJo stopped producing milk, or stopped making the necessary hormones, and didn’t have the stimulus to cue maternal behavior.”

JoJo’s life challenges could have been fatal for her cub born Dec. 12 at the zoo. When she was only 9 or 10 days old, and her eyes and ears were still closed, her mother abandoned her. “She would leave the nest box, and sort of wander around, stumble around the cage, crying” for her mother, said Helmick.

“Her distress cry was sort of, ‘I’m alone. Where are you? I can’t find you.’ “

JoJo would be a few feet away, just not interested.

Helmick said that once JoJo turned her back, the cub had perhaps 48 hours to live. She was limp, shivering, running a high temperature, her mouth gray instead of pink. She was losing weight, even starving. So the zoo staff stepped in to take over for her mother.

And unlike the polar bear cub born a week earlier at the Berlin Zoo and then abandoned by its mother, no one has called for the cub to be left to die as it would have in nature. At the Berlin Zoo, the polar bear Knut has become an international media star.

At the Seattle zoo, the baby tiger – which won’t have a name until zoo visitors make their choice in a popularity contest – is starting to eat like a tiger and zoo officials hope she will grow up to raise her own litters.

Like all tigers, she is endangered. Only 400 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild on the Southeast Asian island from which they get their name.

On March 5, the cub was returned to the feline building, where she is being weaned for her relationship with human beings.

“She’s burning up a lot of energy. She’s doing well,” said Martin Ramirez, the curator at the zoo.


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