Tigers are magnificent but fearsome animals. They are definitely ones to admire from afar because of their incredible physical strength, aggression, and hunting skills. But seeing tigers interact with their cubs sheds new light on this species that can be caring, devoted, and gentle. And with so many tiger subspecies endangered, knowledge about them is more crucial than ever. One tiger made the news in a resurfaced video where she gave birth to twin cubs, but one of them was stillborn. But her motherly instincts saved his life.
“See? She knows what to do.”
The video shows Kaitlyn, a Sumatran tiger, giving birth to a litter of cubs in Australia Zoo in 2014. Her subspecies is critically endangered so every cub is vital to their survival, especially when subspecies like the Balinese and Javanese tigers have already gone extinct.
Kaitlyn lies by herself in a room with experts watching through a TV monitor, giving her the space to deliver her brood. As the first cub emerges, she starts licking it, which would stimulate the baby’s breathing, an animal expert explains. However, the cub seems lifeless, putting the team of zookeepers on edge. But the tigress moves on to lick its little face, an instinct to clear any liquids in its airways and mouth, an expert present says. Two minutes passed, and the cub could gasp but not properly breathe. But after a few more moments of tension, the baby began to take regular breaths.
“Good girl! She did so well,” said Giles Clark, head of Australia Zoo’s tiger department, who oversaw the birth. Another expert watching added, “See? She knows what to do” as the baby let out a tiny squeal, which surprised the first-time mom. The second cub emerged in total contrast to its twin, kicking and yelping straightaway. The two males were named Clarence and Hunter. 
Kaitlyn gave birth to another set of twins in 2016. This time, they were a healthy male and a female, named Scout and Delilah. “We’re so thrilled about Kaitlyn’s brand new cubs,” Clark said to the press at the time. “With Kaitlyn, as with all of our tigers, we have a good strong bond — or a friendship as I’d like to call it — that enables us to have interaction and be hands on.“
“We’ve already started to handle these cubs in her presence and that friendship will translate with us being able to interact with those cubs in the same way which we do with other tigers here at the zoo. We are completely over the moon to have these two new additions and the whole team is excited — you just can’t help but fall in love with them.”
These babies signified hope for the continuation of the Sumatran tigers in the global breeding program. “Genetically these cubs are really important, because Kaitlyn, their mother, is what we call a new founder to the breeding program,” Clark said. “Her bloodline is a new bloodline to the program and she’s obviously passed that on to her cubs, hence why they are so important.”
Read: Shocking footage: Zookeeper attacked by lion, but saved by lioness
An Critically Endangered Tiger Subspecies
Sumatran tigers used to live in several areas in Indonesia’s Sunda Islands. But today, there are less than 400 left and they only live in protected lands in Sumatra. They are the smallest subspecies of tigers, growing up to eight feet and 165–300 pounds, with darker orange fur and closer-together stripes. Sumatran tigers are carnivores, feeding on almost any available animal, including deer, boars, fish, tapirs, monkeys, lizards, and more. But lately they struggle to find enough food.
Habitat loss and poaching are currently the two worst threats to Sumatran tigers. Deforestation had left these predators with less prey, and palm oil plantations had invaded their habitats. Poachers seek tigers for their teeth to make jewelry, fur to make furniture, bones to make tiger bone wine, along with other “high-status” products. As a result, Sumatran tigers live in national parks and other protected areas. “That means there’s a very real possibility that this incredible species could become extinct in our lifetime,” Clark said. “Cubs like these are the insurance protecting tigers from disappearing altogether.”
In Indonesia, poaching tigers is illegal and spiritually prohibited by the country’s religious leaders as of 2014. Alongside conservation efforts to protect these animals, developmental programs support the local communities so no one has to resort to poaching to feed their families. Additionally, there are captive breeding programs in other countries, like Australia, to learn more about this subspecies and help them reproduce.
- “WATCH: Australia Zoo celebrates birth of two Sumatran tiger cubs.” Global News. Alexander Maveal. February 11, 2016
- “Australia Zoo Sumatran tiger Kaitlyn gives birth to two new cubs on Sunshine Coast.” ABC.net. Megan Mackander. February 11, 2016
- “Sunda Tiger: Facts.” WWF.
- “Sumatran tiger.” National Geographic.