Zoo mourns loss of two more tiger cubs

Sad news came yesterday from the Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum in Sioux Falls, where the excitement generated by the birth of six rare Amur Tiger cubs has waned now that two more of those cubs have died (two were stillborn and a third died a few days after birth, leaving only one still alive now).

Here’s part of the news release from the zoo:

Two weeks ago, the Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History announced the arrival of three Amur tiger cubs; today, they mourn the loss of two. Animal care staff continue to provide constant care for the lone surviving Amur Tiger cub.  

The births of Amur Tiger cubs occurred from the evening of July 18 through morning of July 19.  For six-year-old “Vika”, her first experience giving birth resulted in an uncommonly large litter of six cubs – which brought problems birthing them.  Two cubs were stillborn; a third cub died a few days later, of a ruptured bowel.  Last week, two other cubs died, one of fluid in the lungs and abdomen, the other of kidney failure.  The surviving female cub is doing well.       

The heroic efforts of Zookeepers and the Zoo’s vet tech began the night the cubs were born, when they monitored the birth through video cameras throughout the night.  It became clear after the last cub was born that, following the strenuous labor, Vika was unable to care for her cubs.  It is not uncommon for animals, both in the wild and in captivity, not to be able to care for their offspring.  Recognizing the situation, Zookeepers rushed in to dry and warm the newborn cubs, some of them still wet and cold. 

The Zoo’s animal care staff remained on duty 24/7, watching the cubs and feeding them every four hours.  They also cleaned massaged the cubs, to simulate what a mother Tiger would do with her tongue.  Despite their efforts, only one survives.

“We had high hopes for the cubs – not just for the fun it would be for us to watch them grow up, but for their importance to the Amur Tiger population worldwide,” said Elizabeth A. Whealy, President and CEO of the Great Plains Zoo.  “Our animal care staff has worked tirelessly to ensure the cubs received the best care possible.  Unfortunately, sometimes nature takes its own course.”   

Amur Tigers are extremely endangered; fewer than 400 Amur Tigers survive in the wild.   There are only 133 Amur Tigers in captivity in Association of Zoos and Aquarium (AZA) accredited zoos in the country.  Vika and her mate were among only 15 pairs recommended for breeding this year. The remaining cub is one of just four surviving Amur Tiger cubs born in U.S. zoos this year.

The Zoo has set up a memorial fund for the cubs; the proceeds will be used to purchase special “enrichment items” like boomer balls and toys for the Zoo’s Big Cats.  Those who would like to contribute can contact the Zoo at 367-8313, or at www.greatzoo.org.

About Author

Seth Tupper

Seth Tupper was born and raised in South Dakota and earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from South Dakota State University in 2001. After college, he worked at a newspaper in Minnesota and then returned to South Dakota in 2003 to join the staff of The Daily Republic in Mitchell, where he is currently the publisher. Seth has won numerous awards for his writing, including the 2007 Outstanding Young Journalist award in the daily newspapers category of the South Dakota Newspaper Association's Better Newspapers Contest. Seth's day-job and freelance work have granted him opportunities to meet hundreds of South Dakotans and travel across much of the state. He also spends a lot of his free time exploring South Dakota's state and national parks, hiking trails and kayak-friendly rivers.

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