Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo provided area media a first in-person look today at the rare Amur tiger cubs born at the Zoo. Two of a litter of four cubs survived after their mother, Changbai, neglected them, causing Zoo staff to step in. Since their birth on November 25, 2017, they have been cared for around the clock at the Zoo’s Animal Health Care Center.
Zoo Director Gregg Dancho introcued the cubs, joined by Zoo Deputy Director Don Goff, a Co-Chairman of the Felid Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) that oversees conservation efforts for the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA) accredited institutions. Zookeepers Chris Barker and Bethany Thatcher and Vet Tech Jenny Gordon brought the tiger cubs out from the nursery for their introduction.
Dancho announced the cubs’ names, Reka—which means “river” in Russian, and Zeya—the name of a tributary to the Amur river in Russia, acknowledging the cubs’ Russian heritage. Dancho also announced a new fundraising campaign to raise money for architectural drawings for a new tiger habitat. The first step is a $5,000 goal for architectural drawings to begin the planning process. The public is encouraged to donate at impactvine.com.
The birth of the tiger cubs is a once in a lifetime experience for many of the Zoo staff, and for Zoo guests, said Dancho. “From the moment when we realized that their mother, Changbai, was not responding to the needs of her offspring, it was never guaranteed that the cubs would survive,” he explained. “This is the first time in the history of the Zoo that we’ve hand-reared tigers here. When they were pulled from the habitat, we had probably a twenty five percent chance of them surviving.” He credited excellent Zoo husbandry by the animal care staff and thorough guidelines on hand rearing from the AZA with their survival.
Goff remarked that next week the cubs start their first series of vaccinations, and announced that a webcam will be installed next week in the cubs’ nursery. “These cubs are significant because we can trace their lineage back to wild tigers. They’re managed by the Species Survival Plan (SSP) which makes breeding recommendations for endangered species—in this case, the genetic match (between the Zoo’s male, Petya, and female, Changbai) was very valuable.”
The cubs will remain in the Health Care Center for the next two months, and will be on exhibit in spring—most likely in April, Goff said.
Amur tigers are a critically endangered species that is rapidly disappearing from wild areas. The cubs’ survival is an important step that contributes to the genetic diversity of Amur tiger conservation worldwide. Over the last century, tiger numbers have fallen by about 95 percent, and tigers now survive in 40 percent less of the area they occupied just a decade ago. Poaching, habitat destruction and climate change have all taken a toll on the tiger population.