All the dirt, news, culture and commentary for Oklahoma's second century.

ADORABLE ADOPTION: The Oklahoma City Zoo takes in an Amur tiger cub in need of a mother

Gretchen Cole
Three Sumatran tiger cubs with Amur tiger cub Zoya at the OKC Zoo.
Fertile Ground Compost Service
Help support Red Dirt Report

OKLAHOMA CITY—On July 10th, a female Amur tiger cub named Zoya was born at the Philadelphia Zoo. Sadly, Zoya's mother not only lost most of her cubs during birth but showed no maternal instincts towards Zoya and rejected her. At this pivotal time for the cub, the zoo was only left two options, according to Eddie Witte, Curator of Carnivores for the Oklahoma City Zoo.

“They had a couple of choices: they could hand-raise her, but then she’d be hand-raised by herself and when you hand-raise an animal by itself it does not learn those social skills that it needs being mother-raised,” Witte said. “However, we had a trio of Sumatran tiger cubs born on July 9th; when they found out we had tiger cubs that were just a day older than her, they reached out to us and to see if we’d be open to the possibility of us receiving Zoya to be raised with our three boys and mom so she could learn to be a tiger.”

Cross-fostering was a tricky proposition that had “been done once a long time ago,” when they took a cub from one family and gave it to another. For this to work, the OKC Zoo took every precaution, from masking foreign scents by rubbing hay and tiger urine onto Zoya, as well as rubbing her fur against her new brothers. The mother tiger, Lola, eventually bonded with Zoya and started nursing her as one of her own.

“Our tigers are Sumatran and Zoya is an Amur tiger, but they are both part of the Tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP) of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA),” Witte said. “What they’re going to do with our three boys and Zoya is they will look and see in the future where those cats will need to go so they can be paired up with genetic matches so they can be bred in the future. Ultimately, all of our cats will be shipped out to other institutions for a couple of years.”

As the tiger cubs continue to grow rapidly over the next 6 to 8 weeks, they will begin exploring their habitat more and more. Witte hopes that, by the end of September, that all four tiger cubs will be fully outdoors and playing outside with Lola, something that many zoo patrons are eager to see.

As for the ultimate future of Zoya, she will tentatively stay with the Oklahoma City Zoo until she is 12 to 20 months old, the age at which “tigers begin to separate from their mothers in the wild.” When this occurs, she might move to another AZA-accredited zoo that participates in the Tiger SSP or it is possible that she could return to the Philadelphia Zoo.

“There are only about 125 Amur tigers in captivity in AZA zoos, and 80 Sumatran, so where you’re looking at one tiger and there is only 125 total, you’re practically looking at 1% of the population,” Witte added. “Each one of these cats are great ambassadors for our guests to come to know and love and then, on a broader scale, they are going to care more about what happens to tigers in the wild.”

Enjoy this? Please share it!

About the Author

Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

read more

Enjoy this? Please share it!

About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

Member of the Oklahoma Press Association
Member of Investigative Reporters & Editors
Member of Diversity Business Association
Member of Uptown 23rd

Rotary Club of Bricktown OKC
Keep it Local OK