Banham Zoo in Norfolk has announced the genders of their now 7-week-old Amur tiger twins: a male and a female.
The cubs were born on 7th October, following a successful genetically matched conservation programme pairing for this endangered species. Their mother, Mishka, was moved to Banham Zoo in May 2021 following identification as a genetically compatible mate for the zoo’s resident male, Kuzma.
As their confidence has grown, the pair have begun to explore their expansive indoor and outdoor enclosures over the past weeks. Visitors are now celebrating the announcement via social media that the pair are brother and sister.
Oliver Lewis-McDonald, Team Leader of Carnivores at Banham Zoo, said: “The cubs are taking everything in their stride and they’re both confidently moving between all three of their inside dens. When they are in the main den they are not fazed by the visitors and have been delighting everyone who has managed to see them so far.
“Every day they venture a little further outside but remain within the vicinity of the house. They have been going out without mum on a few occasions too.
“To have one of each sex is wonderful and we look forward to watching them grow and develop. It will be very interesting to see how they differ the older they become. At this stage there is little to differentiate their personalities, but the female is very slightly more confident. She is definitely the louder of the two!”
The cubs are expected to be named in a social media competition later in the year. Banham Zoo’s sister park, Africa Alive, recently named their cheetah cub “Zuri” (meaning “beautiful” in Swahili) following a competition across Facebook and Instagram.
Amur tigers, also known as Siberian tigers, are one of nine subspecies of tiger – three of which are now extinct. Due to its Siberian habitat, the Amur tiger has a long coat of fur and a large ruff around its jawline. Amur tigers are the largest of the world’s big cats, as well as the heaviest.
They are classed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to habitat loss and hunting, with only around 500 thought to be left in the wild.
The Zoological Society of East Anglia, the charity which runs Banham Zoo in Norfolk and Africa Alive in Suffolk, works with The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) breeding programme to conserve the populations of endangered animals, including tigers. The programme coordinator issues pairing recommendations for zoos all over Europe based on the genetic importance of potential offspring.
This breeding programme maintains a population of around 250 Amur tigers housed in EAZA zoos which are managed by a breeding programme coordinator to maintain as much genetic variability as possible.
The successful pairing of Kuzma and Mishka has increased the population of this endangered species by two. Mishka has been a very attentive first-time mother, and Kuzma recently met his cubs too.
Oliver Lewis-McDonald, Team Leader of Carnivores at Banham Zoo, said: “The introduction was done at Kuzma’s pace. He was given the opportunity to see the cubs through mesh from day one, so he knew they were there.
“After Mishka had been given time to settle and we were confident that her maternal bond with the cubs had been established, he was given access to the den where the cubs were. Kuzma chose not to go through to meet them but was more content to let Mishka come to him for a head rub.
“Kuzma is not really interacting with the cubs, but I’m sure this will change as they become more mobile. He will become a subject of fascination to them and no doubt they will be following him about.”
The cubs are still spending most of their time inside out of view, but lucky visitors may get the chance to see them as their confidence continues to grow.