Four rare Malayan tiger cubs were born early Sunday in Fresno Chaffee Zoo, officials said Monday, adding an exclamation point to a day that included the zoo's African Adventure groundbreaking ceremony.
Three tigers were born between 4 and 5 a.m. Sunday. Mek, the mother tiger, gave birth to a fourth cub about two hours later.
"All four look strong and are doing well," said Scott Barton, zoo director.
Barton announced the births in front of about 200 people in Roeding Park for the zoo's groundbreaking ceremony for the 13-acre, $55.9 million Africa project paid for with Measure Z, the one-tenth-of-a-cent sales tax earmarked for zoo improvements.
Zookeepers have not been in the birthing area and don't intend to interfere with Mek, Barton said.
"We usually give them a while before we go in," he said. "We will check them in five to seven days."
Until then, the cubs cannot be weighed or get a health exam. The cubs' genders are not known, but their bellies are round and they appear well-fed, Barton said.
"All we are seeing is great behavior from the mom and cubs," he said. "We want her to bond with them and be very relaxed."
Mek is 16 years old -- fairly old for a tiger to give birth -- and "an experienced mother," Barton 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, the zoo's male.
The cubs will not go into the outdoor enclosure for about two months, weather permitting, Barton said.
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.
Last year, two litters totaling seven Malayan tiger cubs were born in Little Rock, Ark., and Tampa, Fla., he said.
"Eventually, it's expected these youngsters will go off and start breeding programs at other zoos, but we will have them here for a while," Barton said.
Visitors can observe Mek and her cubs on a live feed video screen at the zoo.
<SC120,86>The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, firstname.lastname@example.org or @beebenjamin on Twitter.