Nearing 4 months old, the four Malayan tiger cubs at Fresno Chaffee Zoo are having fun in their version of preschool.
In the zoo's tiger habitat, they are learning commands to open their mouths, stand upright, lay down and do other things. When they demonstrate good behavior, zoo workers blow a whistle and reward the cubs with food, the equivalent of stars or stickers.
"School starts early, even when you're tiger cubs," says Lyn Myers, the zoo's assistant curator for mammals.
Born Jan. 5, the cubs turned 113 days old Monday. Myers says they are developing at a normal, brisk pace. Their diet is now nearly all-meat, a pound a day. They still nurse when they are tired or just want quiet time with mother Mek.
Their weight is pushing 30 pounds each, a tenfold increases since their weight was first recorded at 10 days old.
They also are all finished with vaccination shots — something they really whined about. They won't face the needle again until age 1.
Basic training is important in the cubs' development, Myers says, because they learn good behavior and relate it to reward.
"The cubs are learning what the whistle means, which is another way of saying, 'Good job,' " Myers says.
The cubs also are blossoming with their own personalities.
Arya, a female, is showing that she is a hard worker, a trait that has helped her earn a lot of rewards in training.
"She's much like her mom — spicy attitude," Myers says. "She's really wanting to work hard, to interact."
Batari, the other female, has an outgoing personality.
Berani, the "little boy" in the litter, is the whiner.
"He cries about everything," Myers says. "He demands mom's attention."
Cinta, the other male, is the curious one.
Melinda Santos of Porterville, who visited the zoo Monday, says she understands how the cubs are developing their own personalities. She is the mother of four children, ages 5 to 17.
"It's really interesting that they closely relate to or mimic the same behavior as children," she says. "I think it's lovely."
The cubs soon will splash in their own wading pool — just like kids. The habitat's pool has been covered for safety reasons. But zoo officials will open it up when temperatures reach the 90s so the cubs can cool down and play in the water.
The cubs will stay at Fresno Chaffee Zoo probably until they reach ages 11/2 to 2. Then, they will need more space. At that time, Myers says, the zoo will give them away to other zoos.
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