Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Two Sumatran Tiger Cubs Born

Sumatran tiger Damai gave birth to two Sumatran tiger cubs on Monday evening, August 5, 2013! These cubs are a conservation success. Sumatran tigers are critically endangered in the wild, so every cub counts.

Damai gave birth to the first cub around 6:15 p.m. and the second around 8:23 p.m. Keepers have been monitoring the cubs and both appear healthy. Damai is being a great mom, and is nursing and grooming both cubs.

We are giving Damai time to bond with and care for her cubs. They most likely will not be on exhibit until late fall. In the meantime, you can watch them grow on the Zoo’s tiger cub cams!

July 28, 2014: Tiger Cubs Turn One Year Old

The Great Cats exhibit is celebrating two very special birthdays on August 5: Sumatran tigers Bandar and Sukacita are turning one year old! Keepers Marie Magnuson and Dell Gulglielmo have cared for the cats and their mother, Damai, since they were born. In the latest Keeper Q & A, they reveal birthday plans, presents, and their hopes for the cubs’ future.

How will animal care staff celebrate Bandar and Sukacita’s first birthday?

Marie: Our Nutrition Department is very creative and inventive when it comes to creating cakes for our carnivores. I expect they will come through with one of their delectable bloodsicle cakes for the cubs.

What has been your favorite memory of working with these cubs?

Marie: The way the cats interact with one another has been fun to watch. Damai was only 2 years old when she came to the National Zoo. Now, she’s transformed into a superb mother raising her cubs!

It’s amazing to watch her maintain the delicate balance between protecting her cubs from possible danger while encouraging them to be independent and confident. She will wrestle their enrichment keg out of the water for her cubs. But when the keg blocked the door inside and Sukacita was afraid to approach it, Damai came back outside to encourage her daughter that the keg was not something to fear.

Dell: My favorite moments are when all three cats are in the moat! One day, Bandar was on the land waiting for the floating keg to drift towards him. As soon as it was within reach, he lunged for it—only to push it out further!

A few minutes later, the keg started drifting back to the side of the moat. He patiently waited for it to get right up to the edge instead of lunging for it. As he pounced on it and got a firm grasp, I could see how proud he was of himself! Sukacita joined in, and they both pounced and played in the water. It was a great lesson in patience for them both.

What do you find surprising about the family’s interaction?

Dell: For being a first-time mom, Damai has been great and has a lot of patience with her cubs. What’s most surprising to me is that, even though the cubs are older, she will still offer them her “high value” treats, such as bones and frozen-thawed rabbits. Recently, she started eating only the ears off of her rabbit and leaving the rest for her cubs, even though they get their own, too!

What can Zoo visitors expect to see at the tiger exhibit?

Marie: The cubs are still at an age where everything is a toy to them. With the hot D.C. weather, we’ve seen them take dips in the moat frequently.

Dell: Keepers give the cats various enrichment items—these could be boxes, burlap sacks stuffed with hay, or even the floating keg! Recently, we crafted a large rattle out of PVC pipes for the cats, and they love it!

Marie: Often, we’ll add scent enrichment to these items to make them even more enticing. Spices and extracts are particularly popular with the tigers.

Dell & Marie: As one can imagine, the tigers are pretty tough on their toys. If readers are interested in giving the cats a birthday gift, we would love either 8-inch or 10-inch round PVC pipe that we can turn into moat/float toys or rattles! A 10-foot rattle costs about $80 to make. A donation (of any amount) to the Enrichment Giving Tree would help animal care staff purchase all the necessary pieces. Old kegs also make great floating toys for the moat!

How are training sessions coming along?

Marie: Both cubs can lie down, sit, touch the target, and jump up on the bench on cue. They will also line up parallel to the front of the enclosure for injection training. Bandar is more willing to be touched with the training poll than Sukacita is. He also allows keepers to touch his paw pads (always through mesh, of course!) Sukacita is mastering the “open mouth” cue. Her adult fangs are coming in!

How much do the cubs weigh?

Marie: Bandar now weighs in at 160 pounds! Sukacita is about 125 pounds.

What are their personalities like?

Marie: Sukacita has been feisty since the day she was born, and that hasn’t changed! She will go toe-to-toe with her brother (who is much larger than she) over food and enrichment items. She is always working her angles during training to try and get the maximum number of treats for the minimum numbers of behaviors!

Bandar is sweet and confident. He greets keeper with a friendly “chuff” in the morning. He’s also a great student during training sessions!

How long will the cubs stay with Damai?

Craig Saffoe, Curator: We will separate Bandar from the girls once he shows an interest in breeding (likely by spring 2015). Sukacita will remain with Damai until they choose to spend much of their time apart from one another or show aggression towards each other.

How long will the cubs stay at the National Zoo?

Craig: The cubs will stay at the Zoo until they are about three years old. The Species Survival Plan has seen a good number of Sumatran tigers born lately. That’s terrific for the population, especially because these species is so endangered (fewer than 500 remain in the world!) But that also means there isn’t a high demand for cubs at this time because zoos have reached their cat capacity.

Once Bandar and Sukacita are ready to be paired with mates of their own, we’ll bring in a new male to breed with Damai.

April 25, 2014

Sumatran Tiger cubs Bandar and Sukacita turn nine months old on May 5—how time flies! One sign that they are making the transition from cubs to sub-adults is that both have started to lose their “baby” incisor teeth. Their adult fangs will take a few months to grow out.

It’s all a part of growing up—and it certainly hasn’t curbed their appetite. In their native habitat, a Sumatran tiger mother and her cubs would eat their prey together as a group. To align our tiger’s experience with those of their wild cousins, keepers also feed Damai, Bandar, and Sukacita as one group. They receive about 77 pounds of meat each week (about 11 pounds per day). In addition to their normal diet, the cubs also receive bones and frozen-thawed rabbits once a week. Although we can’t measure exactly how much each cat consumes, keepers can tell from the cats’ weekly weigh-ins that Damai is maintaining her weight and the cubs are growing. Bandar now weighs about 120 pounds and Sukacita about 96 pounds!

As we mentioned in the previous update, Bandar and Sukacita had just started training and had mastered “shifting”—going outside and coming inside when called. The cubs are also learning behaviors that help animal care staff evaluate their health, including touching their nose to a target, jumping up on their sleeping bench, as well as laying down and sitting on command.

Recently, keepers began training the cubs to prepare for vaccines and blood draws. The first step was to get the cubs to line up parallel to the front of their indoor enclosure. Both cubs quickly got the hang of that command. The next step (and bigger challenge) is for the cubs to get comfortable with vaccinations. To simulate the prick of a needle, keepers lightly press a stick against the cats’ hips. Bandar is much more comfortable with this training than Sukacita at the moment, but she has always been a bit feistier than he! Each time the cats do the action asked of them, they are rewarded with a tasty meatball. This positive reinforcement builds trust between the cats and their keepers.

Aside from interacting with keepers, the cubs enjoy play time with mom in the yard. Socializing with Damai seems to be their favorite past time—and mom seems to enjoy teaching them hunting skills as much as they enjoy learning them! Bandar and Sukacita also enjoy some youngster-friendly enrichment—objects such as boomer balls, burlap bags filled with hay, and empty kegs—and they seem to have a good time batting then around. If you’d like to purchase toys for the growing cubs, check out our Wish List.

On Earth Day 2014, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute launched the “Endangered Song Project,” an analog-meets-digital outreach campaign that asked 400 participants to help raise awareness about the fact that there are only 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild. We partnered with Atlantic Records’ indie band Portugal. The Man to distribute a previously unreleased song titled “Sumatran Tiger.” The song was lathe-cut onto 400 custom poly-carbonate records designed to degrade after a certain amount of plays.

So what can you do? Follow the National Zoo on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Scour the internet and search for the song using the #EndangeredSong on sites like SoundCloud, Radio Reddit, MySpace, Twitter and Facebook. Retweet, repost and tell everyone you know. Visit www.endangeredsong.si.edu to watch a video PSA and to learn more about how you can perpetuate the song and our message.

March 6, 2014

Sumatran tiger cubs Bandar and Sukacita turned seven months old yesterday! Both are growing fast—Bandar weighs 88 pounds, and Sukacita weighs 73 pounds.

The Washington, D.C. winter weather has been particularly cold and snowy this year. On days where it’s too cold to go outside, we give the cubs a few enrichment items to play with indoors to keep them active and engaged.

In the video below, you’ll see Bandar is having a grand old time with this burlap sack (stuffed with hay). To ensure each enrichment experience is new and exciting—we vary the types of items they get. On any given day, the cubs could receive a water tub to play in, boomer balls, or scented enrichment. And depending on their mood, one cub may want an item more than the other cub. Or, they may want it equally and play tug-o-war for it! Sukacita doesn’t appear to be interested in the sack in this video. But if she wanted it, she would have put up more of a fight and wrestled with her brother for it.

We’ve had several days where the bitter cold of winter was broken with some welcomed sunshine and warmth. Mom Damai and the cubs certainly enjoy their time in the yard. The cubs are still honing their hunting skills by sneaking up on one another and mom—who seems to enjoy the chase as much as they do! Visit the Zoo and see them every day from noon until they are ready to come inside (weather permitting).

January 30

January’s bouts of winter weather have kept our tiger cubs, Bandar and Sukacita, on their toes! The cubs seem to have a heap of fun pouncing in the snow. While we want them to enjoy their time outside, we are mindful to let them out for just a short time. That way, they aren’t overexposed to the elements. Given the opportunity, they would probably play in the snow all day! Their parents—who have experienced snow many times over—tend to spend less time in the snow and more time in the comfort of the heated dens. We are training the cubs to come inside when the shift door opens. So far, they’ve been responding well, especially because they know their reward for doing so is a tasty beef chunk! Days when the temperature is in the teens and single digits, we keep the cubs inside. Mom and dad, though, have the choice of whether to go out or stay in. So, if you visit on a day that is not quite so bitterly cold, there is a good chance you’ll see them in the yard!

Bandar and Sukacita are nearly six months old. They’re still at the age where playing with each other is their favorite source of entertainment. On those colder days when the cubs are inside, we’ve also introduced them to some youngster-friendly enrichment—objects such as smaller versions of the adults’ boomer balls, balls with catnip inside, logs with different scents—and they seem to have a good time batting then around. Luckily, the cubs’ little teeth and claws are much more gentle on their toys than their parents’ are! If you’d like to purchase toys for the growing cubs, check out our Wish List. They’ve started basic target training and are both very enthusiastic students—so enthusiastic that we could not get a picture of Bandar that is not blurred or one of Sukacita sitting down!

Bandar and Sukacita have started basic training—shifting inside when called and teaching them to eat on their own and become less dependent on mom. We haven’t observed nursing for some time now, so we are almost certain they’re weaned off Damai’s milk. As part of their diet, they each eat about 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of meat per day, which is 15.4 pounds per week. They’re gaining weight steadily and, as of last week, Sukacita weighs about 51 pounds and Bandar weighs about 60 pounds. They’ve doubled in size since their November debut!

Thinking ahead, we’ll be watching the cubs’ interactions with mom and each other in order to determine the best time to separate them. Usually, tigers start showing signs that they’re ready around 1 year old. We will have more updates, photos, and videos as the weather warms!


December 17, 2013

Our Sumatran tiger cubs just turned four months old! Bandar and Sukacita quickly took to their yard. In fact, the first day we opened the door, both cubs fearlessly bolted out—climbing, hiding in the bamboo, and trying to sneak up on mom Damai (and each other)! They’re great fun to watch. Right now, the best time to see them is from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. every day, depending on the weather.

Behind the scenes, keepers have started basic target training with the cubs. In target training, we ask the cubs to move the body part to the end of the target. We are starting with just one command—the cubs must touch their nose to the end of the target—and, so far, they’re doing really well. This is the building block for other behaviors that will help animal care staff evaluate their health.

November 18, 2013

Damai's two cubs Sukacita and Bandar will have access to the yard and will be on exhibit to the public for the first time today at 10 a.m.!

As they are still quite young, the tiger team anticipates that they will be on exhibit for about one hour. They will be on public exhibit each day but this may vary depending on the weather and on the animals themselves.

November 6, 2013

National Zoo’s Sumatran Tiger Cubs Pass Swim Reliability Test

Our two Sumatran tiger cubs took a brisk doggy paddle at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo today and passed their swim reliability test! The cubs also now have names: the male is Bandar and and the female is Sukacita (SOO-kah-CHEE-tah). All cubs born at the Great Cats exhibit must undergo the swim reliability test and prove that they are ready to be on exhibit. Bandar and Sukacita were able to keep their heads above water, navigate to the shallow end of the moat and climb onto dry land. Now that they have passed this critical step, the cubs are ready to explore the yard with their mother, 4-year-old Damai.

“Tigers are one of the few species of cats that enjoy taking a dip in water,” said Craig Saffoe, curator of Great Cats. “The moat exists for the safety of our visitors, but it could present an obstacle for young cats. Our job is to make sure that if the cubs venture into the moat, they know how and where to get out. These cubs represent hope for their critically endangered species’ future, so we need to take every precaution to ensure their survival.”

Both cubs took the test under the guard of animal keepers Dell Guglielmo and Marie Magnuson, who gently guided the cubs in the right direction. The shallow end of the moat is approximately 2 ½ feet deep. The side of the moat closest to the public viewing area is about 9 feet deep and is an essential safety barrier that effectively keeps the cats inside their enclosure.

Friends of the National Zoo hosted an opportunity to name one of the Zoo’s tiger cubs on the website Charity Buzz. On Nov. 1, the winning bidder elected to name the female cub Sukacita, which means “joy” in Indonesian. The $25,000 donation supports ongoing research and education outreach at the Great Cats exhibit. Keepers selected the male cub’s name, Bandar, in honor of Bandar Lampung—a southern port city in Sumatra.

Starting Monday Nov. 18, keepers will decide on a day-to-day basis whether Sukacita and Bandar will spend time in the yard and for how long they will be out. This decision will be based on weather and how the cubs adjust to being outdoors. The Zoo will continue to share the latest updates and photos on Facebook and Twitter.

November 1, 2013

The cubs continue to grow and thrive. At this age everything can be a toy, including pine cones. This is the boy practicing his hunting skills with one while his sister watches. They had another round of vaccinations and as you can see in the picture of the girl, no one enjoys getting an injection. But she was a brave little tiger and now they are one step closer to going outside!

October 17, 2013

The shutdown has not affected the cubs at all—they didn’t miss a beat! Each day they are getting bigger and bigger. They had a wellness exam on October 15, when they received routine shots and vaccines. The male cub weighs about 21 pounds and the female weighs about 19 pounds.

Damai is spending more and more time away from the cubs during the day and rotating yard access with Kavi. She and the cubs have settled into a routine where the cubs spend most of the day in the cubbing den and all three spend the evening hours with mesh access next to Kavi. We are still hoping for a debut just in time for Thanksgiving!

September 13, 2013

Damai brings the cubs up to see Kavi most mornings now. Traveling around the building is a great way to develop their strength and coordination. We are even starting to see the cubs playing together. They are not very good at pouncing on each other yet, but it’s a lot of fun to watch them try! They are growing very quickly and the boy is a tad under 14 pounds while his sister almost 12 pounds. They are still getting all their nourishment from their mothers’ milk and that will probably not change for at least another month.

September 7, 2013

The tiger cubs continue to thrive and are steadily gaining weight. Their coordination is improving as well, and they are exploring all five of the rooms that are available to them. The little girl came out into the runway yesterday afternoon and saw her mother Damai engage in a training session with one of her keepers. Damai has shown signs of wanting to bring the cubs up to the mesh door to show them to Kavi. This is normal tiger behavior that we have been expecting. There is no webcam in this area, but we will try to get some video to show everyone when the cubs see their dad for the first time.

tiger cubs

In this photo, the little girls is in front and her brother is behind her.
Photo by Karen Abbott.

September 5, 2013: Cubs are one month old

The tiger cubs are one month old today. And Damai has moved them back into a den on the tiger cam!

tiger cubs!

August 26, 2013: First Vet Exam

Our tiger cubs are 3 weeks old, and this morning they got their first veterinary exam—and passed with roaring colors. Veterinarians determined that the 2 cubs are a male and a female. The male cub weighs a little more than 8 pounds and the female weighs 7.5 pounds. During the exam the cubs received transponder microchips, and veterinarians collected blood and fecal samples from them. Veterinarians and keepers report the cubs are healthy, plump and growing quickly.

The cubs will not be on exhibit for several months until they have completed a series of four additional health exams, during which they will receive all necessary vaccinations.

tiger cubs

The male cub (on the left) and the female cub (on the right.)
Photo by Connor Mallon, Smithsonian's National Zoo.

August 24, 2013

tiger cubs

Photo by Marie Magnuson, Smithsonian's National Zoo.

Look at these pictures of the cubs the keepers got this week. The keepers can already tell which markings they'll use to tell the cubs apart.Can you find one or two distinctive markings to distinguish one from the other?

August 15, 2013

Tiger cub photo by Karen Abbott

Photo by Karen Abbott, Smithsonian's National Zoo.

While Damai was enjoying a break from the cubs this morning, our keepers were able to continue desensitization training with them. And they were able to take some photos of them! The training is going well and will help get the cubs used to the keepers' smell and presence.

As you may have noticed, Damai and the cubs aren't on the cams at the moment. When she was pregnant, she had access to three possible cubbing dens, two of which had cams. Animal care staff did their best to make the two dens with cams as inviting as possible, to encourage her to stay there when she had her cubs.

Today, though, we opened up two other dens for her, which are farther back in the lion/tiger house as well as being a little darker. These are also the dens she was in for her quarantine period when she first arrived at the Zoo. She didn't move the cubs back there right away, but this afternoon she did choose to move the cubs back there.

Since she didn't move the cubs as soon as she was given the option, we do not think that her moving the cubs had anything to do with our keepers' sitting with the cubs as part of their desensitization training. If Damai had been upset about smelling the keepers on the cubs or the dens, she would have moved the cubs as soon as she had the chance. Since she waited, we think it's likely that she simply prefers those two dens as being slightly more comfortable, familiar, or protected-feeling.

Damai always has the option of moving the cubs back to the dens with the cameras, but we want that decision to be hers. Animal care is our first priority. We can't move the cams back to the den where she and the cubs are now. For the meantime, we promise to keep you updated with news and photos as soon as possible, and we'll be sure to let you know when and if she and the cubs move back to one of the dens with the live cams.

August 8, 2013

Damai came out of her den on Tuesday while keepers were in the Great Cats building, which is a good sign! That means she is comfortable with the keepers being near her cubbing den. While she was out she appeared very calm and stayed out for quite a while. She ate all of the meat keepers had offered her, and did not seem overly concerned about the cubs.

Eventually she made her way back into the den, and when she got there she didn’t move the cubs. That tells keepers that she didn’t feel anxious or threatened by their presence.

First time mom Damai is a natural with her two newborn cubs. The Sumatran tiger cubs’ eyes have not opened yet, so Damai is spending most of her time grooming and nursing them. Damai lets the cubs crawl all over her, as if her body is a jungle gym.

Damai is spending almost all of her time with her new cubs and who could blame her, they’re adorable! Bonding time is critical for mom and her cubs, so for a few weeks they will be off of exhibit spending time together. In the meantime, visit the cubs’ dad, Kavi, at the Great Cats Exhibit.

Damai with tiger cubs on cam

Not only are our two new Sumatran tiger cubs the cutest cubs in town but they are also a huge conservation success. With fewer than 500 Sumatran tigers in the wild, the birth of these cubs makes a stride in the direction towards saving this critically endangered species.

“It’s taken more than two years of perseverance getting to know Damai and Kavi and letting them get to know each other so that we could reach this celebratory moment,” said Craig Saffoe. “All I can do is smile because the team has realized our goal of producing critically endangered tiger cubs. Damai came to us as a young tiger herself, so it’s really special to see her become a great mom.”

Keepers and veterinarians began monitoring Damai closely in June after she began gaining weight and exhibiting behaviors that indicated she could be pregnant. Staff trained Damai to participate in ultrasound procedures, which allowed them to confirm her pregnancy on June 21, 2013. Keepers prepared for the arrival of cubs after Damai became restless and began showing signs that she would soon give birth. This is Damai’s first litter of cubs, sired by the Zoo’s 12-year-old male tiger, Kavi. The two bred several times from December 2012 through mid-April of 2013.

Damai and tiger cubs on cam

Tiger fans may be able to watch the newborn tiger cubs at the National Zoo reach every milestone for the next several weeks via live webcams on the Zoo’s website. Damai has the choice of moving her cubs to dens in the indoor tiger enclosure that do not have webcams. If she chooses to move them, they may not be visible on the webcam. Viewers can toggle between two webcams in the cubbing dens. During the next few weeks the cubs will open their eyes, become more mobile and potentially even start to explore the other dens that Damai can access.

The Zoo will provide updates on the cubs on Facebook and Twitter.

Read past tiger updates for Damai and Kavi's story.