Endangered Tiger Cub Leaves National Zoo After Mother Rejects Him - NBC4 Washington

Endangered Tiger Cub Leaves National Zoo After Mother Rejects Him

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    Smithsonian National Zoo

    A 9-week-old tiger cub from the National Zoo is heading to his new home in San Diego after his mother rejected him, zoo staff said.

    Video on the Smithsonian National Zoo's Instagram account showed two zookeepers packing bottles of milk early Monday morning before putting the tiny cub in a cat carrier and loading him into a van. 

    The tiger cub and zookeepers left Baltimore-Washington International Airport on a direct Southwest Airlines flight to San Diego at 8:25 a.m. Monday, zoo officials said.

    Zookeepers hope the cub will thrive when paired with another parentless cub that lives at the San Diego Zoo.

    The National Zoo's cub was born July 11 to his mother, Damai, an 8-year-old Sumatran tiger, and his father, Sparky.

    When the cub was only 19 days old, his mother began acting aggressive toward him when he tried to nurse. The zoo's Great Cats team decided that Damai was not producing enough milk to feed her cub, and began offering the cub a special blend of kitten and exotic animal milk replacement mixed with ground beef for extra nutrition.

    "When he was positioned near her head or elsewhere in the enclosure, she would groom him and play as normal. But, as soon as he moved towards her belly, she would vocalize aggressively and push him away with her hind feet," Craig Saffoe, curator of the Great Cats exhibit, said in a statement. 

    Saffoe said Damai's behavior toward the cub soon became more frequent and intense.

    In late August, Damai began growling, barking and biting at the cub. She also showed signs she was entering estrus, a time of fertility that includes a changing appetite and vocal responsiveness to male tigers, National Zoo officials said in a statement.

    Her aggression escalated until Sept. 4, when keepers stopped reintroducing the cub to his mother.

    Keepers put the cub in a special enclosure where Damai could see the cub through a "howdy door." Zookeepers say the cub "clearly demonstrated" that he wanted to spend time with his mother by making a friendly tiger social noise called "chuffing." But his mother did not reciprocate.

    Zoo staff decided that the likelihood of a successful reunion between mother and cub was shrinking as the days passed. The staff decided to transfer the cub to the San Diego Zoo, where he could grow up with another tiger cub who was found in a car crossing the border. 

    "My team has mixed emotions right now," Saffoe said. "Having another tiger that is about his age to interact with will be tremendously beneficial to the both of them. They'll be able to play, wrestle and learn how to be tigers together, which is instrumental to his long-term social development."

    Damai successfully raised twin tiger cubs in 2013, and the National Zoo said in a release that caretakers are not sure why she rejected her newest cub. The Great Cats team will work with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to decide if and when Damai will breed again.

    Sumatran tigers are critically endangered, and only between 300 and 400 of the big cats can be found in the wild, zoo officials said.

    National Zoo officials say you can follow the cub's journey by searching the hashtag #TigerTales on its social media accounts.