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Memphis Zoo celebrates birth of its first Sumatran tiger cubs since 1998

The birth of the cubs is part of a larger effort by the Memphis Zoo to help preserve the tiger population around the world.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Get ready for all the cuteness! The Memphis Zoo has welcomed two new tiger cubs to its family.

“We are thrilled to announce the birth of these two Sumatran tiger cubs – a critically endangered species. The symbol of the tiger is synonymous with pride and community here in Memphis, and I have no doubt the city will join us in the celebration of these significant births,” said Courtney Janney, the Memphis Zoo's Chief Zoological Officer.

The Memphis Zoo’s female 8-and-a-half year-old Sumatran tiger, Dari, gave birth to two cubs on May 5, 2023. The Zoo said Sumatran tigers are one of the most critically endangered subspecies of tigers, and the last time they had tiger cubs here was more than 25 years ago in April of 1998. The zoo said the mother of those cubs was Dari’s grandmother. The Memphis Zoo also has a male Sumatran tiger named Gusti, who is almost 6.

Credit: Memphis Zoo
Sumatran tiger cub at Memphis Zoo
Credit: Memphis Zoo
Sumatran tiger cub at Memphis Zoo

The birth of the cubs

The Memphis Zoo said a lot of work had to be done to prepare for the birth of the cubs.

“The process of ensuring healthy tiger cubs began before they were born. Modern zookeeping includes relationship-building with the animals in our care, and our talented zookeeping team did a stellar job creating a positive relationship with Dari, the mother tiger. Utilizing positive reinforcement, Dari would willingly position herself and allow our veterinary team to safely ultrasound her weekly.

Memphis Zoo’s Senior Veterinarian, Dr. Felicia Knightly, DVM, states, ‘After practicing for several weeks to perfect the technique, we were elated to definitively confirm a viable fetus on the left side. Shortly after, we confirmed a second fetus on the right side. In subsequent weeks, our goal with every ultrasound was to reconfirm the viability and growth of both cubs. We were better able to estimate the potential parturition date [birthing window] and create a plan.’

So far, Dari has proven to be a fantastic mother, calmly grooming and nursing the cubs. In the meantime, zookeepers continue building relationships with her by training her to be comfortable shifting away from the cubs temporarily so we can eventually examine them and ensure they are healthy on Dari’s terms.

Dr. Felicia Knightly says, ‘We will document milestones and their development, such as when their eyes open when they are strong enough to leave the nest box, and when they start sampling diet. Once the cubs are six weeks of age, they will receive a series of vaccinations essential to their health before investigating their outdoor exhibit at approximately three months of age.’”

Credit: Memphis Zoo
Sumatran tiger cubs and mother at Memphis Zoo

Tiger conservation

The zoo said due to habitat loss and poaching, there are now only six subspecies of tigers on the planet, down from nine, and saving the Sumatran tiger population is of extreme importance.

Dan Dembiec, West Zone Curator, said in a news release, “As the last of the island tigers, preserving Sumatran tigers is critically important. Sumatran tigers are managed collaboratively in breeding programs by accredited zoos globally. So, the birth of tiger cubs here at the Memphis Zoo is a milestone with a worldwide impact.”

The Memphis Zoo takes part in a Species Survival Plan (SSP) program, a formally and scientifically managed program to help endangered animal populations around the world.

“The Memphis Zoo has chosen the Sumatran tiger as a conservation focus in the coming years, and these two cubs will be crucial in helping to raise awareness of the plight of their wild counterparts,” said Janney.

The Memphis Zoo isn’t only working on tiger conservation here. Dr. Joe Figel, Ph.D., a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow for Memphis Zoo, is heading to Sumatra, Indonesia, for the next three years for fieldwork with indigenous rangers to access threats for the current Sumatran tiger population.

The zoo will post his journey on its social media pages and website.

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