Hana, a Sumatran tigress who lives at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, is rare for many reasons. She is one of what is believed to be less than 400 Sumatran tigers in the world, a truly endangered population. Just 32 were born in captivity last year, though zoologists remain cautiously optimistic as the Sumatran tigers’ numbers have increased from an all-time low of 180 in 2008.
The sheer scarceness of the species is one reason the grisly find on Monday morning was so sad to zookeepers. Not that there was much to find; when they they went to weigh the previously-thriving tiger cubs, they had simply vanished, with only small clues that their mother had eaten them during the night.
Hana gave birth to the three tiger cubs on November 19, and one died shortly after birth, which is not uncommon. Hana appeared to handle the loss normally and bonded appropriately with the other two tiger cubs, who were playful, healthy 5-week-olds at the time of their demise.
The Times noted that Sumatran Tigress mothers have been known to kill and eat their young if they are stressed, hungry, or seeking to mate, but none of those conditions seemed to apply to Hana, which was why zookeepers were taken by sad surprise. Nili Avni-Magen, the zoo’s chief vet, discovered the rare occurrence when she went to weigh the cubs.
“This was a complete surprise. We truly thought we were beyond this and that she was on the right path.”
Anvi-Magen stated that while she was “very, very sad” this is not completely unheard of.
“This zoo will learn the lessons. It could be that this is connected to the behavior of the male.”
Anvi-Magen did not elaborate what the male’s behavior was, who was believed to be separated from the mother and cubs as is typical in the post-natal period.
The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, which showcases animals featured in the Hebrew Bible, has an especially impressive mating record in terms of endangered species compared to other zoos, and has been instrumental in building up the population of Sumatran tigers. That’s one reason that the loss of the cubs was such a devastating blow; the endangered species is now two few less.
While the loss of the two little Sumatran tigers is disappointing, it is also a way for zoologists to learn about reasons of near-extinction and may possibly help them to intervene in future situations such as this.
There was no comment on when, or if, Hana would be expected be bred again, or with the same male tiger that produced the now deceased cubs.