In May this year, we welcomed the birth of three adorable Amur tiger cubs. Nishka and Layla, our girls, were named by our charity’s donors and our boy was named in a social media vote.
When I found out the public chose the name Aleksander, as the trio were born on my birthday, I was honoured. It’s a personal and career highlight, and not something I ever thought would happen in my time as a zookeeper.
Now at four months old, their personalities are starting to shine. Nishka is the most confident around us and always chuffing in the hope of more meat chunks! Layla follows in her footsteps as the two are always together. Little Aleksander is more reserved and spends the most time with mum Dominika, but he is slowly becoming braver, exploring more and playing with his sisters.
As they grow, they are becoming cheekier too. Each morning we have the task of trying to spot them in the enclosure and it's getting harder and harder! Some days they are halfway up trees and other days hidden away in bushes.
Once all tigers have been checked, the next job is to clean the house, changing beds, filling water bowls and taking away enrichment which has usually been destroyed overnight. They are then left until after lunch, when we call them to the enclosure line for target training, an important first step in helping us perform health checks. After training, mum and cubs are given their food for the day. They all have their own individual small piece but prefer to share the big piece with mum. The last task of the day is to provide enrichment to keep them entertained, at the minute sheep wool is a big favourite!
Amur tigers don't usually live in family groups in the wild, so dad Botzman is still separate from mum and cubs for now. We still perform the same tasks with him daily, though these are more comprehensive than with the cubs.
His training usually starts with basic target training, where a target on a stick is placed against the mesh and Botzman meets the target with his nose. Once he does this, the clicker is used to reinforce he has done the correct behaviour and is rewarded with a tasty treat. After target training, other commands are asked for, such as an open mouth behaviour where we hold a hand up with the thumb and index finger pinched together and then moved apart and say the word ‘open’. This behaviour is so his teeth, gums and tongue can be examined for health checks. We’re also working with him to sit and lie down so we take blood in stress-free way for him and our expert vets.
Visitors can see our tiger family in the outdoor area of the park. The cubs have access outside at various times so we recommend stopping by more than once during your visit.
Experienced carnivore keeper