Rosamond Gifford Zoo

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County Executive McMahon Announces Amur tiger Zeya Gives Birth to Cubs

The Rosamond Gifford Zoo is proud to announce the birth of two Amur tiger cubs, a critical milestone in the conservation of this rare species.

The cubs, one male and one female, were born to mother Zeya and father Thimbu on April 29. Zeya arrived at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in late 2020 from Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo. The Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Species Survival Plan recommended that she be paired with Thimbu, who came to us from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs in 2019.

County Executive Ryan McMahon said, “The birth of these tiger cubs is a triumph of conservation, and demonstrates the expertise and commitment of the animal care specialists at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo.” McMahon continued, “These are some of the rarest big cats on Earth, and it is a privilege to have an institution in our community that is qualified to provide the complex care that this species requires.”

Amur tigers are native to the Amur region of northeastern China and Siberia, and their wild population is estimated to be less than 400, making them one of the rarest species of large cats. The birth of healthy Amur tiger cubs is an invaluable milestone in the recovery of this rare animal’s population.

“When Zeya came to the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, we had high hopes for this day,” said Ted Fox, executive director of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo. “It was always our goal for Zeya to have cubs, but so much had to happen before that was a possibility. This is a crucial moment in the zoo’s conservation mission, and our community has so much to be proud of today. These cubs represent the work of our animal care team in slowly introducing these massive, complex cats. Today is a celebration of Conservation in Action.”

This is Zeya’s first litter of cubs, and the first litter of cubs fathered by male Amur tiger Thimbu. So, understandably, our animal care specialists were uncertain how the adults would react towards each other when introduced.

In the wild, adult tigers can act unpredictably and often aggressively toward each other. Zeya was hand-raised, which is why the animal care team was watching the process so closely, as it was uncertain how Zeya would react to cubs. Staff wasn’t sure what to expect, given that Zeya never got to witness what a mother Amur tiger provides for her cubs. In fact, Zeya’s mother rejected her and her sister Reka, leaving animal care staff at Beardsley Zoo with no choice but to hand rear the little Amur tiger cubs. Unlike her mother, though, Zeya immediately bonded with her cubs, and has been an exceptional mother in the days since their birth.

“For Zeya, motherhood was completely instinctual,” Zoo Curator Dan Meates said. “It’s not often that you get to witness an Amur tiger become a mother, and even rarer to observe one that was raised by humans doing such a good job of raising her own cubs.”

After this successful pregnancy, the zoo has hopes for more cubs in the future. The twin tiger cubs represent the culmination of almost three years of work for the Amur tiger SSP; when Zeya arrived in 2020, the process of introducing her to Thimbu was long, slow, and unpredictable. Unlike lions, tigers live solitary lives and adult tigers only come together for brief periods of breeding. Years later, the pair has now welcomed their first litter of cubs, contributing to the precarious Amur tiger global population. 

Zeya and the cubs will not go on exhibit until the cubs receive all their necessary vaccinations, a process that will be complete when they are 16 weeks old.

In the meantime, guests who want a closer look at Zeya and her cubs can view them daily on a live camera feed in the zoo's Animal Health Center. The “Tiger Cub Cam” will play live on a television in the health center, and guests can watch the tiger twins as they play together, spend time with Zeya, and grow larger each day.

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