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Morning after losing oldest tigress, Delhi zoo wakes up to 2 new cubs

After a gestation period of more than 90 days, three-year-old Nirbhaya — a white tigress — gave birth to two cubs in Delhi zoo

delhi Updated: Aug 16, 2018 02:01 IST
Joydeep Thakur
Joydeep Thakur
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Delhi,Delhi zoo,Delhi zoo tiger
Three-year-old Nirbhaya with her two cubs.(Screengrab)

After death came new life. Gloom had descended on Delhi zoo after its oldest tigress, Priya, died of old age-related problems on Tuesday. She was 25 years old. On the morning of Independence Day, sadness had been replaced by delight when another tigress, Nirbhaya, gave birth to two cubs.

After a gestation period of more than 90 days, three-year-old Nirbhaya — a white tigress — gave birth to two cubs. Both cubs have yellow coats as their father, Karan, is a normal Bengal tiger. Nirbhaya is the daughter of Vijay, the white tiger who killed a man who fell into his enclosure at the zoo in 2014.

“Almost three decades after two tiger cubs were born in the Delhi zoo when a normal Bengal tiger mated with a white tigress, we initiated a breeding programme in May 2018, in which a normal tiger was paired with a white tigress,” said Renu Singh, director of Delhi zoo.

“Two cubs were born on Wednesday morning,” said Singh. Delhi zoo is officially known as the National Zoological Park.

The tigress and her cubs have been kept in an isolated enclosure and no zoo officials, except the tigress’s keepers, are being allowed to go near it. Zoo officials are monitoring the enclosure through closed circuit television cameras installed in the cage. Even their father, Karan, has been kept in a separate enclosure.

“The tigress and the cubs are doing fine. We are closely monitoring the situation. The diet of Nirbhaya has been changed. Instead of buffalo meat, she is being given mutton and chicken. Milk and eggs are also being supplied. Vitamin C and iron syrups are also being given,” said Abhijit Bhawal, the zoo veterinarian.

Visitors to the zoo will perhaps be able to see them in October. The zoo plans to introduce them to the public during the Wildlife Week that starts from October 2. Until Monday, the zoo had 12 of the big cats, seven of whom are white.

“But now with the death of Priya, we have one fewer. Priya was 26 years old and had outlived her life. Normally, in the wild, a tiger survives for 15-20 years. She was ailing because of geriatric problems and had cataract. She was in the hospital over the past few days,” said Singh.

Zoo officials are hoping that Nirbhaya would deliver one or two more cubs. A tigress typically delivers a litter of three to four cubs.

“We are expecting that there would be more cubs and at least one would be white because Nirbhaya is a white tigress,” said Singh.

White tigers, too, are Bengal tigers. They’re neither albino nor a separate species. White tigers are born when two Bengal tigers that carry a recessive gene controlling coat colour are bred together.

In order to produce more white tigers by retaining the recessive gene, zoos and breeders often inbreed the animals. Inbreeding can trigger many genetic problems with tigers such as cleft palates, scoliosis (curvature) of the spine, mental impairment and crossed eyes.

“Hence to get some healthy offspring and avoid inbreeding, we decided to choose a white tigress and a normal tiger. This has yielded results and that too when the nation was celebrating its 72nd Independence Day,” said Singh.

First Published: Aug 16, 2018 02:01 IST