SLIDESHOW: what it takes to rehab three Amur tigers in Far East Russia

UPDATE: In Primorye, the autumn is slowly coming. The tiger cubs activities have slightly changed: now, they stay active not only in the night, but also in the early evening. When the sun is drooping, Kuzya and Borya carelessly play catch-up, jumping at run on the hill and then rolling down. The relationships between the two males are still friendly. The two together, they quietly eat one big piece of meat. Ustin, in the neighborhood, has two new females. He smells with great interest at their border territory. We haven’t seen any direct contact. The tiger cubs are very cautious.

The tiger cubs are a year-old. They are becoming like adult animals. Their milk-teeth are gone. The tiger cubs are ready for their first hunts after big prey. 

ORIGINAL POST: The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is supporting the rehabilitation of three tigers rescued last winter.

I have been monitoring the tiger cubs every day using remotely-controlled video cameras and camera traps placed around the enclosure. Our monitoring allows us to learn a lot about the life of the tiger cubs without causing them anxiety by human presence.

In the end of the fall of 2012 two tiger cubs (Borya and Kuzya) lost their mother. They were found in Yakovlevsky district of Primorsky Krai. Another tiger cub (Ustin) was found in Kavalerovsky district of Primorsky Krai.

SEE ALSO: Spotlight Russia: Cinderella, the released Amur tigress, continues to thrive in the wild

Just 4-5 months old, the tiger cubs were trying to find their lost mother and find food and had already lost a lot of weight and had become weak. At that age, tigers are still very small and dependent.

In the end of November the weather already turns very cold in Primorsky Krai and search for food for orphaned tiger cubs becomes very difficult. The tiger cubs moved to the road where game keepers noticed them. Thanks to the staff members of Special Inspection Tiger, they were captured.

Even in their weakened condition, the tiger cubs were trying to run away and fight back. They had clearly learned to fear humans from their mother when they lived in the wild.

The tiger cubs were moved to the Rehabilitation Center in Alexeevka on December 4, 2012. The center was built by Special Inspection Tiger and A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution specifically for such orphans. The names Borya and Kuzya were given to the tiger cubs in honor of their saviors (those were the names of the specialists who caught them). The tiger cub Ustin was named like this because of the river Ustinovka in the vicinity of which he was found.

Life of the tiger cubs in Rehabilitation Center started in a small house with a den, where they could eat and gain some weight. They remained wary of humans including those who fed them. When the feeding person approached the house they always hid in the den and laid low. Fear of humans is a good sign, and this is why only remote monitoring is allowed with the use of cameras.

After some time the house door was open and the tiger cubs moved to a small quarantine enclosure.

Monitoring of tiger cubs’ behavior showed that at the age of 4-7 months they are very friendly to each other, aggressive interactions between them are totally absent. When a big piece of meat is given to them the tiger cubs calmly eat it together. They often ‘purr’ at each other, a confirmation of their friendly behavior.

It is important to note that orphaned tiger cubs, in contrast with their peers who remained with their mothers (based on monitoring in zoos) are more cautious. They have to constantly be attentive to the environment to be able to run for cover in case of a smallest sign of danger. Most of the time they walk around the enclosure; they listen carefully and look around carefully, unlike tiger cubs who grow with their mothers, such tiger cubs spend their time carelessly playing.

Only in the dens, where the tiger cubs love having a rest, they can afford to relax, to stretch, and to play a bit, catching each other’s tails. These tiger cubs had to mature much earlier than their normal age. This has been noted in many orphaned tiger cubs.

Yet another interesting characteristic of the wild tiger cubs is their skill of lying in wait. If tiger cubs hear sounds which make them anxious they cling to the ground and hide. Even a very small bush can function as a cover! They can lay low like this for many hours until a possible danger disappears.

A tiger is a calm and even-tempered animal. But if there are some causes for anxiety, for instance, there are some unknown sounds near the enclosure, a tiger cubs’ tail tips start twitching very fast. This is the only visible sign a tiger’s anxiety.

In the summer time the grass in the enclosures grows very tall. The tiger cubs are very good at hiding in the grass, and only worn out spaces where they like to lay and their paths give out the presence of the tigers. But at night time and at twilight the tiger cubs move in the open spaces of the enclosure to look around and bathe in the cool water. Every morning Borya and Kuzya bathe in the ditch which was dug out for them, then they jump on to the hill to shake off the water, then they run and play in the tall grass. 

The tiger cubs are growing stronger and they will soon have to start to be taught how to hunt. During several months the tiger cubs will acquire and practice hunting skills, hunting wild pigs and deer. Only when they are able to hunt will they will be able to survive in the wild.

--KB

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