The nearly seven-week-old girls — Zeya and Reka — mewed and sat together, curiously peering out at a gaggle of newspaper and TV reporters and cameras.
“This is their first time out with people,” said Zoo Director Gregg Dancho. “We’re expecting them not to be enthralled by that.”
The zoo’s 10-year-old Amur tiger Changbai gave birth to four cubs on Nov. 25, all of whom arrived underweight.
Sadly, two died and Changbai showed no interest in the remaining two females, who have been bottle-fed and cared for at the zoo’s hospital ever since.
Amur tigers are critically endangered in the wild and Reka and Zeya are two of just 14 born in captivity this year. Of those, only seven survived.
“Everybody is really proud of this,” Dancho said of the twins.
Dancho and Zoo Deputy Director Don Goff, co-chairman of Felid Taxon Advisory Group, said the first-time mom, who is a little long in the snaggletooth to have a first litter, may have decided the cubs were too small to thrive and ignored them.
That’s where Goff, Zookeepers Chris Barker and Bethany Thatcher and Vet Tech Jenny Gordon stepped in.
Thatcher estimated she spends about six to eight hours a day with the tigers, feeding them, keeping them clean and providing toys and fresh bedding.
“It takes a lot of time every day,” she said.
Asked if they nap like human babies, she said, “yes, but not at the same times. They’re twins.”
Reporters were kept at a safe distance from the cubs: No petting allowed.
“We want these guys to become natural tigers,” he said. “We don’t want them to be pets.”
In six months time, meet and greets like Thursdays won’t be possible. The cubs, born weighing less than two pounds, will likely weigh in at 125 pounds each and will be capable of real damage, he said.
While the cubs have been tucked away in their nursery, they’ve already gained a following of adoring fans on social media. Each time Dancho posts photos and video online it elicits a flurry of likes and questions.
Dancho is asking for the public’s support in answering the biggest question: When will the sisters settle into a public enclosure?
On Thursday, the zoo announced a fundraising campaign to raise money for architectural drawings for a new tiger habitat. The goal is $5,000 and you can donate at impactvine.com.
The birth of the tiger cubs is a once in a lifetime experience for many of the zoo staff and guests, When they were pulled from the habitat, they had about a 25 percent chance of survival.
Like other tigers, Reka and Zeya don’t technically belong to the zoo, but are part of the Zoo Collective and are managed by the Species Survival Plan (SSP). The SSP makes breeding recommendations for endangered species and approved the union between Changhai and the twins’ father, Petya.
The cubs will remain in the Health Care Center until spring, probably going on display in April.
Want to know more? Visit www.beardsleyzoo.com.
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