A pair of Endangered Amur tiger cubs – the world’s largest big cats – has ventured outside for the first time at Longleat Safari Park.
Although initially cautious, the cubs, a male called Rusty and a female called Yuki, soon overcame their nerves and began exploring their outdoor enclosure, under the watchful gaze of mum Yana.
Before long the pair, who both weighted just a kilogramme when they were born back in June, were chasing each other and even trying out their somewhat clumsy ambush skills on their patient mother.
The cubs’ birth was the first at the Wiltshire safari park for nearly 20 years and keepers are delighted with their progress.
“Going outside for the first time is always a key milestone in the development of any cub and it also marks the start of a whole new chapter in their young lives,” said keeper Caleb Hall.
“Despite all our best efforts, we never really know how they will react until the big day. However Rusty and Yuki took the whole thing in their stride and seemed to relish all the new sights, sounds and smells.
“Their playfighting and stalking games are exactly what they would be doing in the wild and signals the beginning of their independence from mum,” he added.
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 fully mature at three to four years of age.
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 is part of a European breeding programme for the endangered sub-species.
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.