Young tiger cubs have much to teach
By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN / MediaNews Group
Created: 06/22/2010 02:30:27 AM PDT
Because they live at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, Siberian tiger cubs Mischa and Maksim are safe from the ancient traditions that might otherwise have cost them their lives.
In the wild, the 2-month-old cubs might be in grave danger, park spokesman Lee Munro claims.
“The sad thing about Siberian tigers is that … there are less than 200 left in the wild, and that’s just too close to extinction,” Munro said. “They’re poached for their bones and their organs, which in some cultures are believed to cure everything from arthritis to impotence.”
Those beliefs have been scientifically disproven, Munro said, but the poaching persists. “It’s a cultural thing over thousands of years and is a very hard tradition to break,” he said, adding that experts believe there are “more tigers privately owned in Texas than there are in the wild.”
The new additions bring the park’s total tiger population to 13.
“Our mission is to educate people on conservation of tigers and what people can do to help, and this is one of the ways we do it,” he said. “Getting up close and personal (at the viewing areas), and seeing how majestic they are, drives the point home better than watching a National Geographic documentary about tigers.”
Born with their distinctive orange, white and black pattern, Siberian tigers’ stripes are “more than skin deep,” senior big cat trainer Shawn Fortney said.
“If you shaved the hair, the stripes would still be there,” he said.
One reason Discovery Kingdom officials brought the cubs from the Washington state animal park in which they were born is to help educate the public about tiger conservation, he said.
The newcomers join their 5-year-old brother Fedor at the theme park, Munro said.
Though the three tigers seemed interested in each other at the media unveiling, there are no recognized family ties, Munro said.
“Tigers are solitary animals and have no social understanding,” he said. “The chuffing sound they make at each other is a greeting and a reassuring sound for them.”
At 66 days old, Mischa and Maksim each weigh in at 25 pounds and are gaining about five pounds daily, Munro said. By age 3, Mischa, the female, will have grown to about 350 pounds, he said; Maksim, the male, will reach between 450 pounds to 600 pounds.
The cubs eat four 10-ounce bottles of puppy replacement formula and two cups of raw meat daily.
While still being bottle fed in the park’s animal nursery, the cubs have recently begun making visits to the Odin’s Temple of the Tiger exhibit, park officials said. They will be introduced into the tiger show within the next few months, and begjn performing behaviors at about one year, they said.