Fresno Chaffee Zoo's rare Malayan tiger is pregnant

The Fresno BeeDecember 6, 2013 

The pitter-patter of tiny tiger cub paws may soon be heard at Fresno Chaffee Zoo, because Mek is expecting.

Zoo officials are keeping their fingers crossed that the rare Malayan tiger's cubs will be born without complications.

There are only about 500 Malayan tigers remaining in the wild. The United States is the only country with a breeding program, which involves about 60 of the big cats in 26 zoos.

Lyn Myers, assistant curator at Fresno Chaffee Zoo, said the zoo's two tigers, Mek and Paka, bred in September.

Mek's pregnancy was detected when zookeepers noticed her shape had changed, she added weight and had mammary development, Myers said.

After an ultrasound, two cubs were detected and it's possible there is a third, she said. Mek's pregnancy was announced Friday. Her due date is at the end of this month or in early January, Myers said.

Mek had a litter about three years ago at the San Diego Zoo. She was moved to Fresno specifically to breed since she had bred previously with Paka.

Mek is now kept inside and only Paka is on display in the Fresno zoo's exhibit, Myers said.

Mek and Paka were among six tigers in the wild that were brought to the United States as part of a project to save tigers that were endangering humans or losing their territory to development, Myers said.

"They probably would not have survived if the United States didn't have this breeding program," she said.

Their genetic makeup allowed them to be placed in the breeding program, said Mike Dulaney, curator at the Cincinnati Zoo and vice coordinator of the Malayan tiger species survival plan.

This year, two litters totaling seven Malayan tiger cubs were born in Little Rock, Ark., and Tampa, Fla., he said.

Dulaney is encouraged because Mek is an experienced mother.

"That gives us better odds since she had a couple litters in San Diego," Dulaney said. "The fact that she has had litters and raised them certainly gives us much greater hope."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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