group logo

Two Endangered Sumatran Tiger Cubs Born at Wildlife Safari

3:30 PM · Jul 25, 2021

Two Critically Endangered Sumatran Tiger cubs, Phoebe and Luhahn, were born recently at Wildlife Safari in Winston, and it’s a really big deal. Only approximately 400 Sumatran Tigers remain in the wild, which has led them to being listed as critically endangered. The Tigers are also a part of the Species Survival Plan, which is a US program developed in 1981 to help the survival of selected species in zoos and aquariums, most of which are endangered in the wild. Even with the extra attention and efforts, Phoebe and Luhahn are 2 of only 3 Sumatran cubs born in North America in the past 4 years, according to Sarah Huse, the Carnivore and Cheetah Supervisor at Wildlife Safari. “The North American SSP (Species Survival Plan) Tiger Program is having a huge celebration with the birth of these Tigers because genetically it’s doing a lot for the captive population we have,” House said. Wildfire Safari has played a big role in Cheetah conservation efforts. Now they can add Sumatran Tigers to their list of contributions. The cubs' mother is Riya, a 9-year-old Sumatran Tiger who is a first time mother. Her older age made this birth event even more remarkable. Sarah Huse said it was a big achievement for both Riya and Wildlife Safari as Tigers don’t typically reproduce much after the age of 8. Female Sumatran Tigers are typically sexually mature between 4 and 5 years old. The cubs' father is Dumai, a first time father himself who will be turning 9 years old next month. He has been at Wildlife Safari for 3 years and weighs in at around 250 pounds. Dumai will not breed again this year. Before introducing Riya and Dumai, artificial insemination was attempted with both Riya and her sister, Kemala. “We tried artificial inseminations with them to start with, with both of our females, and neither one took. So we requested a natural breeding recommendation, and they said yup, go for it, your genetics are good. We’ve been working with both females, to see which one would be more receptive with the male. Luckily, both were receptive. We actually had bred the other sister, but it didn’t take. Then successfully got Riya and Dumai introduced and it resulted in cubs,” Huse said. Natural breeding between Tigers is not without risks. “Zoos have lost Tigers during breeding introductions. They can just get super aggressive if you don’t read them right or put them together on the right cycle day. So it’s knowing your cats real well,” Huse said. The cubs were born on Sunday July 11th, but Phoebe and Luhahn were delivered about 10 hours apart. Typically, they arrive 30 minutes apart. The delay was nerve racking, and Sarah Huse was concerned enough that she got on the phone with tiger experts at other zoos to ask for advice. They suggested the recent high temperatures might be the cause for the delay. Tigers don’t like extreme heat, and they will actually slow the birth process during high heat. Sure enough, when temperatures started to drop that evening, contractions started back up and Riya gave birth to her second cub. Right now the cubs are gaining about 100 grams a day and have very full milk bellies. They spend a lot of time nursing and sleeping, cuddled up next to their mother. As of July 22nd, both cubs had opened their eyes. They aren’t very mobile yet, though they are able to scoot around a little and are starting to take little steps. The cubs should begin following their mother outside by mid to late August at which point the public will start seeing them during drive-thru visits to the park. “The cubs will stay with Mom for at least the next two years which is the same in captivity as it is in the wild. Then Mom will start showing us behaviorally that she is ready to have her space back at which point in the wild, she would kind of boot them out of her territory. So at that point, we will separate them from Mom. They will stay together about another year, then we will have to separate brother and sister,“ Huse said. In the wild, Sumatran Tigers can live to be 10-12 years old and up to 15 years old in a zoological setting. “Two to three years from now we will relook at the genetic population and see what makes the most sense, genetically, are they really needing Riya and Dumai to breed again? Does it make more sense, because Dumai is one of the proven Tiger males in North America to send him somewhere else as a better match? Genetically, maybe keep these guys here and bring another cat in the future, because we don’t just want to breed to breed. We always want to really be methodical and have it be beneficial genetically.” Huse emphasized the breeding work that accredited zoos like Wildlife Safari are doing is a part of much bigger worldwide conservation goals. “The breeding and work that accredited zoos like Wildlife Safari are doing is invaluable for these endangered species. We are not just breeding to breed. These breeding are cubs that are being born will help save the next generation of tigers from going extinct. We are working with worldwide goals in our sights. Not only to have a healthy sustainable population in the North American Zoo population but our genetics will help strengthen the wild population as well. Wildlife Safari's number one priority is education and conservation for the amazing species in our care.” Here is a 2-minute video of the cubs with Sarah Huse sharing information about them: