Under the watchful eye of their mom, Joanne, three critically endangered Sumatran tiger cubs—Cathy, Debbie and Nelson—explored an area new to them inside the Tull Family Tiger Trail at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park this morning (July 28, 2016). Until today, the cubs had been spending their days in the habitat’s maternity yard, an area specially designed for young, growing tiger cubs. In this yard, they could safely practice building their natural behaviors: running, jumping, climbing trees and, through their sense of smell, gaining awareness of their surroundings—all things that tigers need to survive in the wild.
Now that the cubs are 6 months old, keepers determined it was time to introduce them to the larger area, providing them with new forms of enrichment and bigger challenges to tackle. Here, they will find larger rocks and trees to climb, and they will become familiar with the smells of other Sumatran tigers that inhabit Tiger Trail. This area also houses a pool, which is very important to the cubs’ development in learning how to swim. Tigers are adept swimmers, and in the wild, they often have to swim long distances and cross rivers to get to their prey, or to find a mate.
“At six months old, it’s time for these cubs to graduate to a much larger exhibit,” said Lori Hieber, senior mammal keeper. “Exhibit B is roughly double the size of the maternity yard the cubs are used to, it offers new fun obstacles and challenges to explore, and it has a pretty deep pond that actually has live fish in it.”
Global Tiger Day is Friday, July 29, and the Safari Park is celebrating the day with special activities at the Tiger Trail exhibit from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Planned activities will include tiger keeper talks, tiger enrichment and a tiger training session. Guests visiting Tiger Trail on this date will be able to see tigers in the habitat’s three yards: the cubs and their mom, Joanne; Joanne’s first cub, 1-year-old Suka; and the newest member of the Safari Park’s tiger family, a male tiger named Langka. Tiger keepers and volunteers will be available to provide guests with information about what San Diego Zoo Global is doing to help conserve these critically endangered animals.
Tigers face many challenges in the wild, from loss of habitat to conflicts with humans, but the biggest threat continues to be poaching. Tigers are killed by poachers who illegally sell tiger body parts, mostly for folk remedies. People can help protect wild tigers by avoiding products made with non-sustainable palm oil, an industry that harms tiger habitats; and by refusing to purchase items made from endangered wildlife.
There are fewer than 350 Sumatran tigers remaining in the wild, and that number continues to drop. Scientists estimate that this species could be extinct in its native Sumatra by 2020, unless measures are taken to protect and preserve it. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park participates in a collaborative breeding program to create assurance populations of Sumatran tigers, and provides funding for anti-poaching patrols. To learn more about San Diego Zoo Global and endangered species, visit endextinction.org.