A pair of Endangered Amur tiger cubs – the world’s largest big cats – have been born at Longleat.
The tiger births are the first at the Wiltshire safari park for nearly 20 years and keepers say they are delighted with the cubs’ progress so far.
In preparation for their arrival, keepers created a purpose-built den and birthing area. The cubs, a male and female, weighed around a kilogramme at birth and were born with their eyes closed.
Both mum Yana and dad Red are four years old and have been at Longleat for just over a year having come from separate collections in Sweden and Norway respectively. The pair are part of a European breeding programme for the endangered sub-species.
“Yana and Red are first-time parents and we’re extremely pleased with how well they are reacting to the new arrivals,” said keeper Caleb Hall.
“The cubs are born with their eyes closed and will only drink milk for the first six to eight weeks before being gradually weaned onto a meat diet by mum. The nature of tigers means Yana is a very protective parent and they do best being looked after solely by her with no extra attention from keepers.
“Tigers give birth to very small and vulnerable cubs in comparison to their size and they are solely dependent on mum for the first three months. Even after that they will closely follow mum and only be mature at three to four years of age,” he added.
Native to the far east of Russia, the Amur tiger is the largest of the big cats and can weigh up to 300 kg and measure more than three metres in length.
In the 1930s the tigers had nearly died out due to hunting and logging. At one stage it is thought the population fell as low as just 20–30 animals. Although they are still under severe threat their status was officially changed from Critically Endangered to Endangered in 2007.
Wildlife experts believe the current population of around 540 individuals is the highest for more than a century. There were once nine tiger subspecies, but three – the Bali, Caspian and Javan – became extinct during the 20th century.