SLIDESHOW: Rare tiger cub meets the press today

SLIDESHOW: Rare tiger cub meets the press today

August 15, 2008 – 2:09PM

To view the slideshow of Zoya please visit:

Zoya sat on top of the rock and pondered her next move.

Repeatedly, she stretched a tentative paw toward the ground, then pulled it back. Finally, she took the plunge, jumping into the wet grass with a distinct grimace.

Zoya, an 8-week-old rare Amur tiger cub with the exuberance and curiosity of any house kitten, made her public debut this morning at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Her exhibit is in an outdoor area of the zoo’s Monkey Pavilion, and drizzle fell during her introduction to zoogoers. It was the first time Zoya had seen rain or experienced wet grass, but she soon seemed oblivious to her soggy footing as she played with her chew toys, stalked invisible prey and tried to climb up a cameraman’s leg. The universal reaction of the crowd watching her was: “Awwwww, it’s so cute.”

The cub, whose name means “life,” was born in the early morning of June 19. Her mother, Helga, was attentive for the first hour or so, licking her baby from head to toe. Then, Helga wandered off and left the cub alone. After a couple of hours – and attempts to entice Helga back to her cub – zoo staff gathered up Zoya and took her to the zoo’s animal clinic. Since then, she has been hand-reared by her human “tiger sitters.”

Helga’s behavior wasn’t completely unexpected. She also neglected a cub she had a few years ago, though she took care of him longer than she did Zoya.

“That’s why we had cameras on her and we were watching her, keeping a really close eye on her,” said Tracy Leeds, the zoo’s general curator.

The 12-year-old Helga and Zoya’s father, George, 14, have been at the zoo since 2004. The zoo also is home to an adult male Amur tiger named Danya, who will soon be going to a zoo in Sioux Falls, S.D., to be in a breeding program there. That will make room for Zoya’s eventual move into the Asian Highlands exhibit.

Zoya, under 3 pounds at birth, now weighs 14 pounds – a long way from her eventual weight of 300 or so. She drinks six bottles of kitten baby formula a day, enriched with chicken or turkey baby food.

Tiger experts from the Amur tiger Species Survival Plan recommend that hand-raised cubs be reared in a rich and varied environment, such as a home with a large dog. Dogs, Leeds said, provide companionship while being tough enough to endure the playful cub’s claws and teeth.

So instead of being confined to a nursery, Zoya spends her nights alternating between two staff members’ homes. Zoya particularly bonded with one of the staff member’s family dogs, Sam, an Australian shepherd. Sam and his family have left the Springs, though, so Leeds and her dogs – a Rhodesian ridgeback and a boxer mix – stepped in to provide some of the overnight care. Leeds transports Zoya in a carrier and keeps her confined to the kitchen at night.

“She’s not particular about where she goes to the bathroom and stuff,” Leeds said.

There’s no worry that Zoya will grow up to think she’s a dog, Leeds assured.

“She knows what she is. You can tell, the way she stalks and pounces. She’s hard-wired.”



Zoya the tiger cub is available for public viewing in an outdoor exhibit at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s Monkey Pavilion. Zoya is on display twice daily, 10 a.m. to noon and 2 to 4 p.m., weather permitting. Check the zoo’s Web site,, for schedule changes.


The Amur, or Siberian, tiger is the largest cat in the world; a typical male can weigh more than 500 pounds and measure nearly 9 feet from nose to tail tip.
Amur tigers are one of five subspecies of tiger still in existence; three others became extinct in the past century. The remaining five are all threatened with extinction, though the Amur population has remained fairly stable in the past decade thanks to anti-poaching and other conservation efforts There are roughly 400 to 500 Amur tigers living in the wild, up from 40 or so in the 1940s.

SOURCES: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, World Wildlife Fund


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