Like 1-year-old kids, the tiger cubs at Fresno Chaffee Zoo ripped into their birthday gifts Monday — gift wrap, bows and name tags went flying!
“They liked their presents — they killed ’em,” says Lyn Myers, assistant curator for mammals at the zoo.
More than 150 zoo visitors marveled over the birthday box attack by the four Malayan cubs, born at the zoo on Jan. 5, 2014. Parents with their children, still out of school during the holiday break, sang “Happy Birthday” to the cubs before zoo officials let them into the habitat to their gifts.
Myers says the birthday celebration was an important milestone for the cubs. The United States is the only country with a breeding program, which involves about 60 of the big cats in 26 zoos. There are only about 500 Malayan tigers remaining in the wild.
“For four cubs to make it to 1 year old, it would’ve been hard for them in the wild,” says Myers, adding only about 25% cubs make to a year in the wild. “This is huge.”
The cubs are healthy and continue to pack on the pounds. The cubs each weighed about two pounds at birth — the size of a large potato. Now, Berani, a male, is the heaviest at 134 pounds. Arya, a female, is lightest at 123 pounds.
On Monday, zoo officials sprayed perfume on the birthday boxes as a new scent to intrigue the cubs. Each box had a gift tag with a name: Arya, Batari, Cinta and Berani.
Berani sniffed a box first. It was for Arya, but he swatted the box with the pink bow off a perch anyway, making many in the crowd laugh.
“I was yelling at Berani — he opened a box that wasn’t his,” Myers says
Berani looked across the habitat as a sibling clawed the box for Batari. No longer interested in Arya’s box, Berani bolted to Batari’s.
“Wow!” went the crowd.
A short time later, all the cubs settled on a box — or parts of it. It didn’t matter the boxes were empty because they had a blast — and so did their birthday guests.
“They’re just like kids — adorable,” says Crystal Capriotti, who visited the zoo with her son, Brayden, 6. “The one tiger really wanted all them.”
Emily Karki came to the zoo with sons Benson, 9, Davis, 6, and Lucas 4. She marveled over what they experienced together.
“The cubs were really excited to open their gifts, and to see what was inside,” she says. “They were just exploring something new — with all the energy kids have.”
The Fresno cubs are part of the Species Survival Program, which will find homes for them at other zoos. Myers says that could take place during the next year.
Three male cubs born in Little Rock, Ark., were recently given to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, all just a little over 1 year old.
“It could be anytime, but usually you get a call and discuss it,” says Myers, adding the Fresno cubs and their mother Mek have enjoyed a good relationship. “Mek has been a blessed mom.”