Bundles of Joy: Amba’s Pregnancy

On July 8, 2009, Amba gave birth to two tiger cubs.  There was no zookeeper yelling, “Push.” Dad Bachuta wasn’t holding her paw. It was just Amba starting her journey into motherhood. Like most moms, Amba had been preparing for her cubs.  The zookeepers made changes to Amba’s off-exhibit holding area months beforehand, such as setting up two dens, said feline area supervisor Neil Dretzka. 

“One was a maternity den. Where we installed a tarp that covered 80% of the back exhibit for privacy and cameras set up so the keepers could have a closed-circuit film showing what happens in the den.  The other was a service den where we fed her and gave her water.”

Keepers also installed a hose that sprayed water on the floor for Amba to drink instead of filling her bowl. This cautious measure was done so the cubs wouldn’t climb into a bowl of water and drown.

Amba gave birth on her own early that morning.  “We always strive to not have any interruptions and we give them (the mothers) as much privacy as possible,” Dretzka said. “We have a very hands-off approach.” When the keepers arrived, they were astonished by what they saw on the closed-circuit film.  “At 8 a.m., I turned on the monitor and we saw a cub on the floor. We couldn’t see any others,” said Dretzka.  “After a while, we heard other noises and saw movement.  At that point, we were pretty sure she had two cubs.”  That night, the Milwaukee County Zoo held an evening public event and kept the Florence Mila Borchert Big Cat Country building open until 9 p.m. for visitors.  Dretzka snuck into the back part of the exhibit so he could see the cubs for himself.  When he peered into Amba’s den, Dretzka found Amba sitting with her two little cubs in the corner. 

Growing Tigers: Once small, But Now Pretty Tall

When Nuri and Tula were born, they weighed about 10 pounds each and “were about as big as a guinea pig,” said Dretzka.  At birth, their eyes were shut, ears were plastered to the sides of their head, and they could barely crawl. 

Cubs receive a vet check-up
In early September 2009, Neil Dretzka holds one of the cubs while Zoo veterinarian Dr. Vickie Clyde does an eye exam.

When the cubs were about 9 days old, they opened their bright blue eyes to see the world for the first time.  When tiger cubs are born, their eyes are blue.  The eye color changes from blue to brown at around age 6 to 7 weeks.  At 2 weeks old, their ears begin to stand up.  At 4 to 5 weeks, the cubs begin to stretch their legs and walk, but they don’t start running till 7 or 8 weeks of age.  “We put them on exhibit at 11 weeks,” Dretzka said.  “They were big enough to get around and not become hurt in the exhibit.”

As of November 2009, the cubs were about 2 ½ feet long, 13 inches tall at the shoulder and 30 pounds.  The only thing the cubs can’t do is jump onto the shelves in their den to sleep.  One of the cubs had made it onto the shelves earlier, which frightened zookeepers.  When the cubs were 7 weeks old, Amba carried them excessively.  This became a problem when Amba placed one of the cubs on a shelf, which sits 4 feet off the ground. “We had to shut the mom out and rescue the cub so the little cub wouldn’t jump and try get down,” said Dretzka.  “At this point the cubs were little and not very aggressive.  We picked them up and took advantage of that and weighed the cubs then.  The next day we took out the shelves.”

Next Section:  Play Dates: The cubs are always playing