Baton Rouge’s two sister tiger cubs were shy around their first visitors Thursday morning, greeting them at first with just their black-and-white ears poking up behind a grassy slope.
Minutes later, their mom strolled toward a cameraman behind the glass pane of their habitat, her little ones showing off their stripes as they followed a few feet behind.
It’s easy enough to fall in love with the furry little striped creatures. But as precious and rare as they are, the 4-month-olds already are betraying their stuffed-animal, cuddly looks with the ferocious nature they inherited from their mom.
“She’s probably the most fierce tiger I’ve ever worked with,” said Erin Dauenhauer, the zoo’s curator of the carnivores and primates department. “They’re learning how to become tigers from her. And they have mom’s personality completely.”
The BREC Baton Rouge Zoo’s new Malayan tigers are exciting for both animal lovers worldwide and people at the local zoo, which has not had tiger cubs in 25 years.
Malayan tigers are endangered, and fewer than 500 are left roaming the world both in captivity and in the wild.
Baton Rouge is currently home to four of those rare tigers — the two cubs, their mother, Nazira, and their father, Intan, who is in an off-site holding area.
Nazira gave the cubs cues to follow on their first day on display to the general public, as the soon-to-be big cats pounced and played and shredded bamboo in a corner of their habitat.
Every morning, Nazira enters their grassy outdoor home alone and darts in and out of the shrubs and bamboo plants to make sure it’s safe for her cubs. She then makes a low rumbling sound, and the cubs respond with a high-pitched chirp to signify that they have heard her instructions and will follow.
Though the cubs were born in late July, it’s taken them this long to learn how to follow their mother and respond to her cues.
Sam Winslow, assistant zoo director and general curator, said it is too risky to let the cubs out into a habitat without ensuring that they have learned to follow their mother because there is a risk they will get stuck outdoors by themselves, without her.
The tigers’ first visitors were mostly gaggles of schoolchildren on field trips, who pushed against a temporary fence in front of the glass enclosure for a better look at the cats. Many ooh’ed and ahh’ed at the little “tigeys.”
One visitor itching for a good look at the little animals was 6-year-old Libby Schliegelmeyer, whose dad Kenneth lifted her up high for a better view. The tigers were last on her family’s checklist for the day so they could have a showing all to themselves.
“I like the baby tigers,” the little girl said of her favorite animal of the day. Asked what she liked about them, she explained simply: “They’re cute.”
The zoo is accepting name suggestions for the cubs until Nov. 21 via its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Zoo leaders are especially looking for Malaysian names that represent the tigers’ country of origin, where the Malayan tiger is the national animal.
The cubs’ caretakers have given them nicknames to know how to tell them apart. They affectionately call the chunkier 25-pound cub “Chubs” and her more slender sister “N.C.” for “Not Chubs.”
The cubs’ mother, Nazira, weighs more than 200 pounds, and Winslow expects the cubs to reach a similar size. Right now, they are still mostly nursing and eating some ground meat.
The female cubs will stay in a habitat with their mother for at least 14 months but no longer than three years, and will then go on to breed. Tigers are solitary creatures, which is why the cubs’ father has already left the habitat.
The cubs will be on display until 4 p.m. daily, as long as the weather permits. Winslow suggested that those wanting the best views should come during the morning, when the cubs are most active, because Malayan tigers prefer to nap midday.
Zoo officials said they hope many people will come to see the cubs this weekend, especially to bring the LSU Tigers good luck in their Saturday night game against heated rival University of Alabama.