Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Tiger Updates

December 17, 2014

Sumatran tiger cubs Bandar and Sukacita are growing up fast and undergoing some big changes at the Great Cats exhibit! At 16 months old, these cubs won't be fully-grown adults for another year or two, but they're already showing maturity and independence. Keepers Marie Magnuson and Dell Guglielmo, along with curator Craig Saffoe, talk about training, separating from mom Damai, and the possibility of new cubs in the latest Q & A.


Marie: While Bandar weighs 209 pounds and Sukacita weighs 167 pounds, they are not yet fully adult. Damai and Sukacita are still on exhibit together and have visual access to each other at night. It's likely that when Sukacita starts to go into estrus, Damai will no longer see her as her daughter, but as a rival. At that point we will house them separately (aside from a mom with cubs, tigers are solitary in the wild). Since there is no clear visual clue when tigers reach sexual maturity, Bandar no longer has direct contact with his sister and mother, though he can see his sister at night through a mesh "howdy door." Damai and Bandar occasionally have visual access to each other inside. He appears to be much happier to see her than she is to see him. Any friendliness on her part towards him would indicate that she is starting to cycle again. Cats in the wild usually do not reproduce until they are between 3 to 5 years of age, but in human care we separate them once they begin exhibiting breeding behaviors to prevent inbreeding.


Marie: When we first separated the cats, Bandar vocalized quite a bit and called out to his mom and sister. He still has visual access to them through the howdy door, so he's acclimated to being physically apart from them.

Dell: We do our best to mimic a natural separation that would take place in the wild, and at about 6 months to 1 year of age, a male cub would leave mom and be out on his own. We also don't want to risk putting the cats in a situation that could enable physical aggression or risk inbreeding.


Marie and Dell: The dynamic in a relationship between cats could happen fast and with little or no warning. We look for any signs of aggression when we're here during the day and keep them separated (but with visual access) at night.


Marie: While all cats learn the basics such as "target," "sit," and "down," we have been focusing most of our attention on training medical behaviors. Bandar is very self-confident and the best at allowing us to touch his paw pads. This would come in handy if he gets cracks in his pads due to dry, wintery weather. Sukacita is very clever at determining what it is the keeper wants, though she will try and use charm to get the reward instead of following the behavioral cue. We spend the majority of our training time training the tigers to receive injections. Both are making steady progress!


Dell: The Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Sumatran tigers will make a breeding recommendation for both Bandar and Sukacita. It's likely that they'll remain at the National Zoo for at least another year before moving to another zoo, being paired with mates, and hopefully becoming parents themselves. We will continue to monitor the social interactions between Damai and Sukacita, which will determine the time the two females will remain together during the day.


Craig: At this point in time, it is very difficult to say whether or not Damai will breed again. We must first await a breeding recommendation for Bandar and Sukacita, which could be 1-2 years down the road. Once they've moved on, the SSP will make a recommendation for Damai based on her mean kinship (the amount of relatives she has in the North American population).


Marie: Keeping up with them! They grow up fast.


Marie: Working with them every day and building a relationship of trust.

Dell: Watching them grow and mature into young healthy adults is most rewarding. Mom's done most of the work but our responsibility is to monitor and observe their social dynamics and growth to ensure health.

July 28: 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

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, 2014

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!


Updates from 2013

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 girl 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.

June 13, 2013

This spring has been quiet at the Great Cats unit, now that the lions have left, though Damai and Kavi continue to get along well. Since all of the lions born to Naba and Shera in 2010 have moved on to other homes, things are relatively quiet.

This gives us the opportunity to catch up on some much needed yard work here. The yard nearest Think Tank gets the least sun of our three yards. Between that and the heavy traffic of seven growing lions, well there wasn’t much in the way of grass left. It has now been carpeted with new sod and looks great! We will keep cats off of it for at least two weeks so that the grass can get established.

Both Kavi and Damai are doing well. Damai has continued to regularly go into heat since the last update. We continued to do introductions during Damai’s heats and Kavi has responded with enthusiasm. We are not sure why no tiger cubs have resulted, but it is way too early to be concerned that there is something wrong. Damai is four years old, and that may have something to do with it. In the wild female tigers don’t have cubs until they have a territory that they are confident that they can keep and are often five years old or more. Soyono our previous breeding female was eight when she had her first cub, Berani.

We have talked with other Zoos who have successfully bred tigers and one suggestion was to keep them together as much as possible. Long-time visitors to the Zoo may remember that Soyono and her mate Rokan would spend their days outside together when we wanted to breed cubs. We would only separate them when they came inside at night to eat. Soyono and Rokan were well matched and we were confident that they could safely spend the day together without constant monitoring. We were not ready to take that chance with Damai when we first started introductions. Her inexperience could be very frustrating to Kavi and we did not want to risk him losing his temper outside where we would not be able to separate them. Now that they have had several estrus cycles to get comfortable with each other (and to practice) we are considering putting Damai and Kavi outside together as well.

But that won’t happen just yet. A tiger’s gestation period is about 103 days, or just under three-and-a-half months. If and when Damai has cubs, they would have to stay inside until they were at least 16 weeks old. We would want them to have all the vaccinations necessary to keep them safe. So we want to get the timing right. It would be a shame to have cubs who are ready to go outside for the first time in January when it is cold. Right now we are planning on reintroducing Kavi and Damai in August. That way if she gets pregnant right away, the cubs would be ready to meet their adoring public in March when things in Washington start to warm up. If it still takes a few more tries, we will have months of nice warm weather to count on for any possible cubs.

So keep your fingers crossed and please be patient. August isn’t so far away!

February 20, 2013

Well the bad news is that Damai was not pregnant as a result of the single breeding during her last heat. The good news is Kavi and Damai have really improved their skill set when it comes to procreation!

We had been keeping our fingers crossed after their last attempt but were not too disappointed when Damai showed signs of coming back into heat. Tigers, like most cats, are induced ovulators: It is the act of breeding itself that causes the female to release her eggs so that they can be fertilized. With only one breeding, the odds were not in our favor for a pregnancy. It was a different story this time around.

Damai is more outgoing than Kavi so it can be a little difficult to tell if she is in heat by her behavior. She is always happy to see him and “chuffs” (a tiger noise of greeting) at him whenever she sees him. Kavi is more of the strong, silent type. He will give her a short chuff when he comes inside but is generally more interested in eating his dinner and then going over to his sleeping enclosure and curling up in his big fluffy hay pile. So when he started hanging around in front of the mesh door that separates them and forgoing the comforts of his bed, we knew something was up. Then he started calling to her when she was outside and vocalizing to her when she was in sight and we knew it was time for more introductions.

We got everything set up as we had for the last round of introductions. When all the keepers were ready and all the safety equipment was in place we opened the door that separated Damai and Kavi. We had been hoping for fireworks. We were disappointed. Kavi paid absolutely no attention to Damai. Damai eventually approached Kavi and then crouched low on her belly in a provocative position called lordosis. We had no idea he could move so fast! OK we knew he could but we hadn’t seen him do so. Instead of approaching her slowly and cautiously as he had in the past, he leapt on top of her and roughly grabbed the scruff of her neck in his teeth. Damai was understandably frightened by this change in tactics and whirled around and as the saying goes, “gave him one upside his head!” That ended the introductions for the day since NO one was feeling romantic any more.

The next day we tried again. This time when opportunityand Damai presented themselves, Kavi found the right balance. He was forceful enough to keep her from scooting away from him but not so much so that she regarded it as a hostile act. They successfully bred twice during the introduction that day. We continued to do at least one intro every day over the next week and most days we did two. Now that Kavi had brought Damai around to his way of thinking, she became quite enthusiastic. Most of the intros lasted about an hour during which time they would breed 8 to 10 times, always at her invitation. This is just the kind of activity you want to see to make sure that ovulation occurs.
So we are fairly optimistic about the chances of Damai having cubs in three months or so. We will ultra sound her in a few weeks and see if we can find out for sure. Keep your fingers crossed!

January 2, 2013

Good news—Kavi and Damai have bred! While it is only once so far, it shows that Damai has overcome her understandable caution and that she trusts Kavi.

In the last update we talked about how we were doing introductions even though Damai was no longer in heat. We feel that these "soft" intros really helped Damai understand that Kavi had no intention of hurting her. We would wait until both cats had settled down in their respective enclosures and then open the door that separated them. Then we watched what appeared to be a whole lot of nothing. But in fact, over the course of a couple of weeks, there was a gradual easing of tension. By the time Damai started to cycle again she was much more confident and relaxed with Kavi.

Even with her confidence rising along with her hormone levels Damai was not entirely cooperative. There were still a few false starts and just as before when the fur flew, it always seemed to be Kavi’s fur, not Damai’s. There was never any serious damage done, but still Kavi’s patience and self control have been very impressive. We and Damai are very lucky to have him.

We will continue to do closely monitored introductions with them and we hope that there will be more breeding. Tigers are induced ovulaters which means that it is the breeding itself that causes the female's ovaries to release the eggs.

And please remember that when both Kavi and Damai are inside for their intros, there will be no tigers out on exhibit. The tiger yard should be empty for less than an hour at these times (unless things are going REALLY well!) so we ask you to please be patient and to keep your fingers crossed!

Back to Top of 2013

Updates from 2012

December 7, 2012

Let me start by thanking everyone on behalf the staff here at Great Cats for the outpouring of sympathy and kind wishes we received on the loss of our girl, Soyono. You made a very difficult time much easier to bear and we appreciate it more than we can say. We had the opportunity to spoil her during her last days and she received lots of her favorite treats. The weather cooperated, and she was able to enjoy time outside right up to her last day. The staff at the Department of Nutritional Resources (the “commissary” to their friends) really came through and Soyono spent her last night working a HUGE meat covered beef bone. She loved it! Everything went smoothly and her end was peaceful, surrounded by the people who loved her.

On a happier note, Guntur is doing very well in Japan. The keepers at Zoorasia in Yokohama have been great about keeping us posted on how he is doing. He and his girlfriend Deru have been introduced! After months of gradually getting to know each other through a mesh door called a howdy gate, Deru and Guntur finally got to meet face to face. We’ve been told that they are getting along well, but she scolds him sometimes. So far they have not successfully bred, but it’s early days and neither Deru nor Guntur has bred before. Sometimes these things take a little practice.

Speaking of which, we have introduced Damai and Kavi as well! They have had visual access to each other for months now and have shown great interest and no animosity. The decision was made to put them together during the first estrus cycle she had after Thanksgiving. Damai must have read our minds because she showed signs of cycling the Saturday afterwards. We waited a couple of days to be sure, then gathered all the keepers together for the big introduction. When we first do an introduction we have everyone available there with hoses and carbon dioxide fire extinguishers, as well as people manning the doors so that we can try and separate the cats if things turn ugly. If you have ever heard house cats mating, you know that it can be difficult to tell between things going well and things going badly. This can be true with tigers as well, only much louder.

The big day came and we were all ready. Damai and Kavi were in adjacent enclosures with the howdy door in between. They were looking at each other and chuffing and just generally giving off a friendly vibe. We moved the door a little to give them some warning of what was about to happen and then opened the door. Boy was Damai surprised! Remember when you were a kid and the high diving board at the pool looked like so much fun until you got up there and then it just looked, well, high? This was kind of like that. Apparently Kavi looked like more fun when the door was closed. Kavi approached slowly, and Damai lost her nerve and hid under the bench. Over the next few days they had some interactions, only a couple with snarling and only one that caused us to intervene. Kavi had a couple of small “dings” on him and Damai was unscathed. Since he has about 80 pounds on her, he could really hurt her and it is a testament to his patience and restraint that he is the only one that’s the worse for wear after their encounters.

We have been continuing with some very low-key intros for them, even though Damai is no longer in heat. We are hoping that this will help her become more trusting of him in time and that this will lead to successful a breeding in the future. She is still very friendly towards him (when the door is closed!) so we are optimistic that nature and her hormones will win out over her very understandable caution. We’ll keep you posted!

November 15, 2012

Longtime followers of the tigers here at National Zoo are familiar with Soyono. She is our older female Sumatran tiger, and for years she and her mate Rokan formed our breeding pair.

Soyono was born here in Washington in June of 1993 and has spent all of her long life here, becoming the oldest Sumatran tiger here in the United States. Sadly, that long life will soon be drawing to a close.

As with almost all big cats, as she has grown older Soy has developed a disease called spondylosis. This is basically vertebral arthritis, and as it develops the bony growth on the vertebrae can press on the nerves as they leave the vertebral canal, causing discomfort or pain, and often a loss of nerve function. Spondylosis was the reason we had to euthanize Rokan two years ago and soon, sadly, we will have to euthanize Soyono as well.

While all tigers are beautiful, our (very biased) opinion is that Soyono is exceptionally lovely. But she is not just a pretty face. When we would work with her to train various behaviors, she was always quick to understand what we wanted. Sometimes she would work with us to determine exactly what it was that we wanted so she could refuse to do it again. There is a reason that an adult female cat is called a queen. And she has always been regal.

She has a sense of humor as well. She is legendary among the craftsmen who work at the Zoo for hiding under her sleeping bench while they repaired some piece of equipment. She would be so quiet that they would forget that she was there. Then, when they had packed up their tools and started to walk out she would launch her almost 200 pounds against the chain link at the front of her enclosure with a deafening roar. Nothing made her happier or prouder than when they jumped about three feet straight up! I swear you could almost hear her chuckle.

Soyono is not a tame tiger. She has caught several wild ducks that have foolishly strayed into her yard. Being the discriminating gourmet that she is, she has only eaten the breast meat and left the rest of the carcass for keepers to clean up.

As a Sumatran tiger, Soyono is one of the rarest animals in the world. She has done her part in preserving her species by producing three litters of cubs. Her seven cubs have gone to zoos all over the country and of course one son, Guntur, went all the way to Japan. We are hoping to hear soon that he has successfully bred. Her daughter Maharani has produced two litters of cubs at Cameron Park Zoo in Texas.

But for me her most endearing moments came when her mate Rokan was near the end. There was only one enclosure that he could have access to because of his physical limitations. Most of the enclosures have an opening to an adjoining enclosure with a mesh door in between so that two animals can have visual access to each other. Rokan’s enclosure did not. So Soyono stayed in a drafty, cramped, cement floored runway so she could be near him when her presence comforted him. She had access to a much more comfortable area. She chose to be with him when it mattered.

She will be missed.

November 1, 2012

Hurricane Sandy has come and gone here and the cats and keepers weathered the storm with no problems. On Sunday, the day before the rain started, we cleaned out gutters and drains, raked leaves, and placed sandbags at the doors. While we certainly got a lot of rain, it did not come all at once as it does during the summer thunderstorms so we got through with out any water coming into the building. There was some damage to the trees, but I don’t think any of the big trees in the Zoo came down. All the big cats stayed inside both Monday and Tuesday. Their inside enclosures are underground so you really didn’t hear too much, but I think they could hear enough of the wind so that they were happy to be inside.

Kavi and Damai continue to get acquainted. She seems to be more interested in him than he is in her, but looks can be deceiving. He is a very laid-back individual and as long as he knows where she is, he just doesn’t worry too much about it. If you are at the Zoo you may well hear her calling to him, with a deep, loud bellow. You may even hear her if you are not at the Zoo. As long as you are in northwest Washington you can probably hear Damai.

Leigh has been working hard with Kavi to train him for voluntary injections, and he has been an excellent student. He will line up at the front of the den and allow himself to be poked with a fork. We use a fork with all the tines but one bent back to simulate the needle when we train. Leigh says that Kavi doesn’t mind the fork at all! I have been doing the same training with Damai, but she does mind so things are going a little more slowly with her.

October 15, 2012

The cats got a present! Port City Brewery in Alexandria, Virginia generously donated some kegs for the cats to use as toys. It’s not easy to find things that can stand up to being played with by tigers and lions, but beer kegs are (almost) indestructible. The lions have discovered that if you whack a beer keg against a cement wall hard enough and often enough, it will start to split. But it took them over ten years so we hope to have these around for another decade. Thanks to Bill Butcher and Port City Brewery from all the cats and their keepers!

As the weather’s cooling down, things between Damai and Kavi have been warming up. We have started giving them “howdy” access at night. This means that there is a mesh door instead of a solid one separating them when they are inside. Both of them have several room-sized enclosures inside so that they each have the option of being alone or going into the room where they can visit with each other.

The first day went very well. They were both excited at the chance to get a good close look at this other tiger that they had only caught glimpses of. Kavi couldn’t hold still, bouncing back and forth in front of the door. Damai was more controlled and kept chuffing (a noise tigers make to greet each other) and trying to get him to head rub through the mesh. Finally she gave up and lay down on her bench in front of the mesh door and waited for him to calm down.

Over the next couple of days everybody was settling down nicely. Then Damai went into heat. As long as they were both inside things weren’t too bad. Kavi may not have been able to breed with Damai but he could keep an eye on her and he knew that she wasn’t “stepping out” on him. But for Damai to go outside she had to go down a runway behind Kavi’s enclosure. She would get as far as his door, flop down on the ground and start rolling around in a flirtatious manner and refuse to go any farther. All the keepers could do was wait until she wandered out in her own sweet time. But then Kavi was irate because he could no longer be sure some other male tiger wasn’t around. And Kavi could see who was responsible for this situation. That’s right, the keepers and he let us know what he thought of us!

But things quieted back down again when Damai went out of heat. We will continue to let them have plenty of face time so that when the timing is right they will be completely calm and comfortable with each other.

June 1, 2012

First of all, here is a Guntur update for all his many fans. He is doing very well in Zoorasia and has made his big debut. It rained for his first public appearance in Yokohama, but since his name means “thunder” this was taken as a good sign. Those of you who have been following Guntur from the beginning may remember that it also poured the day that he and his sisters Maharani and Melati met the public for the first time way back in 2006. He and Deru, the new girl in his life, are still separated but it sounds like they are hitting it off. When they have the opportunity they rub heads at the mesh and “chuff” tiger greetings to each other. Introducing big cats to each other is not for the impatient. If it is rushed the results can be disastrous, and with a species whose numbers are as low as those of Sumatran tigers taking it slow is the right thing to do.

While we are on the subject of tiger courtship, the new talent from Atlanta is here! Kavi is a 10-year-old male, and he arrived here just a few weeks ago. He was transported in the Zoo’s new truck, driven by Thomas McCoy and Joseph Taylor who are very experienced equipment operators. Kavi could not have been in better hands. We were lucky that the weather in “Hotlanta” only got up to about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but they made sure that he had air conditioning and ventilating fans so that he would be comfortable during his ride to Washington. Christina Castiglione, a keeper from the soon-to-be-opened  America Trail, and I drove a second vehicle. Our job was to assess Kavi’s condition during the trip and we had a list of zoos along our route that we could contact for help if we needed any.

Happily, the drive went smoothly and move was accomplished in a single day. Kavi arrived at the Zoo just after sundown. We moved his traveling crate into the Great Cats building and hooked up the runway leading back to the quarantine area. When the door was opened, Kavi hesitated only a moment before walking calmly back into the enclosures that will be his home for the next 30 days.

A 30-day quarantine is a safety precaution to guard against introducing any medical problems into our other lions and tigers. If after 30 days our vets give Kavi a clean bill of health, we can start letting him have some “yard time” and training him to come back inside when we open the door. You may remember that the first time our young female Damai went outside here she did not come in until midnight! At Zoo Atlanta Kavi was used to a routine that is fairly similar to what we do here, so perhaps he will get the hang of it quickly. If not, we will be ready to spend an evening or two here waiting for him to come inside. And when he does, no matter how long it takes, he will get a big reward such as a rabbit or an ox tail, something he doesn’t get every day. Then the next time he is outside and hears the door open hopefully he will remember that inside is where the treats are. At least that is our plan. We will have to wait and see what Kavi’s plans are.

Keep an eye on the Zoo’s website for the date of Kavi’s big debut!

April 15, 2012

Guntur is officially the newest resident of Zoorasia in Yokohama, Japan! Guntur was sent there last week on a breeding recommendation with a female tiger that they have from Holland. As his keepers, we are all very sad to see him go, but we are excited that he will get the opportunity to increase the genetic diversity of captive Sumatran tigers.

The trip went very smoothly, and Guntur arrived to Japan without a hitch. The flight was a long—14 hours--and no other passengers were aware that a tiger was on board! It was a commercial flight, and Guntur was inside his travel crate positioned in the same place where other pets would be on the plane, below the passenger seating. Upon arrival in Japan, I met with their zoo animal transporter, we picked up Guntur from the cargo area, and then drove two more hours to Zoorasia. We arrived late at night, and there were about eight staff members waiting for us. Guntur’s crate was unloaded from the truck, positioned into the tiger building, and safely let out into his new home.

At first, Guntur seemed calm and he walked around the den, inspecting everything. We left him with some food overnight and left to get some much needed sleep. The next day Guntur had eaten, but he seemed very nervous, especially when his new keeper was in sight. Because he seemed afraid of his new keeper, Toshio, I worked with both of them over the next four days to help out with the big adjustment. The new keeper started slowly by offering Guntur some meat, and then stepping back a bit until Guntur would eat it. We progressed with this until Guntur would eat some meat from Toshio via tongs. Success! Guntur is still not completely sure about having a male keeper, but I’m sure after a few weeks he’ll settle in just fine.

Guntur’s mate, Deru, is a beautiful tiger and the same age as him. She couldn’t see Guntur, but she could certainly hear him, and that was enough to make her very nervous about going back into the tiger building! With time to adjust to each other I’m hopeful that they will be a great pair.

I got a chance to explore Zoorasia the week I was there. It is a very nice zoo that is only twelve years old. The zoo is set up geographically and the exhibits are designed well. The tiger exhibit has a lot of trees, grass, and a large pool for Guntur to swim in. I think he will be very happy there! Working with the Japanese keepers was a great experience for me. They do things almost exactly the way we do here, and as we do, they really enjoy their jobs! Overall, the trip to Japan was a success as Guntur arrived safely and new friendships were made with our colleagues at Zoorasia.

Sayonara Guntur!

March 15, 2012

It's official! Guntur will be leaving soon and going to Zoorasia in Yokohama, Japan. There is a young female there who was recommended as a breeding partner for Guntur. She is not related to any tigers in the USA, and Guntur is not related to any tigers in Japan, so this is really an excellent match. While we will all miss Guntur, we are thrilled that he is going to have the opportunity to father cubs! And Zoorasia is a wonderful facility so we know that he will be well cared for in his new home.

The process of deciding where and when one of our animals will be sent can be long and complicated. When the move involves critically endangered animals and international travel no decisions are “minor.” So there was quite a bit of time in between “It’s looking like Yokohama” and “It is Yokohama!” But fortunately senior management worked out the details. Keepers are the ones who prepare the animals for the trip, doing all we can to make the move as easy on the animal as possible.

In a sense Guntur has been preparing for this trip all of his life. He spent the first couple of months inside with his mother and sisters. The cubbing dens were his whole world. His first day outside involved an unexpected swim, his first glimpse of the sun and sky, and the first time his paws touched dirt and grass. That’s quite a change! But his mom and sisters were there for moral support and soon going outside was fun, not scary. Throughout his life he has had new experiences such as going into a new yard, moving to a different indoor enclosure or finding a strange enrichment item in his yard. Every new challenge that he successfully met has made him a more confident cat. So while moving to Japan will be the biggest change he has ever faced, we feel sure that Guntur can handle it.

If you have a cat and have had an exciting time trying to get him or her into a carrier for a trip to the vet’s, you are probably wondering how we go about getting a tiger into a box. The answer is: “Slowly, and very carefully.” We can’t get behind him and push. Guntur will be traveling in a brand-new aluminum crate crate (that weighs 378 pounds when it's empty). It has plenty of ventilation holes on the sides as well as drainage holes on the bottom with a tray to catch any urine—he will be in there for about 24 hours—and a built in water bowl that can be filled from outside. We will feed him early on the day before he leaves, but he won’t eat again until he arrives at his new home. Not only do we want to avoid his needing to defecate in the crate, but we don’t know whether or not he will be affected by motion. We would hate for him to get airsick! There will be hay inside so he will be comfortable and plenty of room for him to lie down and sleep.

We will not give him anything to help him sleep however. There will be some bumpy moments when the crate is transferred onto the truck that will take him to the airport, and when he is loaded onto the plane itself. We want Guntur to be steady on his paws for that! Experience has shown us that once a cat is loaded into his crate he realizes that he is along for the ride and will just sit quietly and wait to see what comes next. There is no need for any sedative.

The travel crate is attached to one end of the runway that Guntur walks through when he goes from his enclosure outside to the yard. During the day when he is not outside, he has access to it and is rewarded for going inside with chunks of beef. Tigers are as curious as other cats, so Guntur checked out the crate as soon as he had the opportunity. Leigh got some pictures of him, and you can see how relaxed and comfortable he is inside. When it is time for him to go he will be traveling in something with which he is familiar and he will feel secure in there.

Guntur will also be traveling with someone who is familiar. Leigh will be going along as well, and they will be traveling on the same passenger plane, though Guntur will be in a special pressurized and climate-controlled cargo section. Leigh will be in Japan for about a week, helping Guntur adjust. It will help Guntur to transition to his new home if there is a familiar face when he arrives. Leigh will be able to show his new keepers what Guntur has been trained to do and show them what the hand signals are for the various behaviors. We want Zoorasia to know what a smart tiger they are getting!

So our boy is all grown up and moving away. We won’t have too much time to miss him however. The new breeding male from Zoo Atlanta will be here soon!

February 2012

Everything went very smoothly with Guntur’s move to Japan. He went right into his crate without any hesitation and seemed quite comfortable there. He did object when people got too close to his crate, but other than that he lay in his hay and waited to see what in the world was going on. As always, the men from Facilities Management did a superb job, and he was loaded into a box van and his traveling crate was secured. He was then driven to the airport like the VIP that he is, with a police escort!

Everybody at the cargo offices of United Airlines had been eagerly awaiting Guntur’s arrival and they could not have been more accommodating. Curator Craig Saffoe and I were allowed to stay with him right up until he was loaded on the plane, and the good folks from United brought some bottled water onto the tarmac so we could fill his water bowl. They made sure that there was plenty of space around him for good air circulation on the trip. Leigh was traveling on the same plane as Guntur, but in the passenger cabin. She had to go through pre-flight security and so was not there when he was loaded onto the plane but will be there when he gets off, a welcome familiar face in his new home.

More news as soon as we can!

January 15, 2012

Having grown up in San Diego, Damai is experiencing her first real winter this year. We are glad that so far the weather has been relatively mild. Visitors often ask if we put the cats out in the winter. While Sumatra doesn’t have the cold weather that we have here, our Sumatran tigers do adapt to the colder temperatures. Their coats become much thicker, and we are able to let them have some outside time almost every day. There is a written protocol outlining temperatures, but we also rely heavily on the same system that everyone’s mother uses: Namely the “If I’m cold you need to put on a sweater” rule. We factor in the wind, sunshine, age of the animal, and which yard we would use, as well as the number on the thermometer before making a decision. With an older animal like Soyono we are much more conservative than with her five-year-old son Guntur. The dens in the yards have heat panels in them that radiate warmth, and we put a deep bedding of hay in at least two of the dens so that the tigers can snuggle down and stay warm while enjoying a little fresh air.

A couple of weeks ago, Leigh and I put Damai's rabbit up on a tree limb. Each of the various cats in the Zoo get a rabbit for dinner on Mondays, big ones for lions and tigers, small ones for smaller cats such as caracals and fishing cats. The rabbits arrive frozen from a supplier that specializes in prey animals for exotic species. We thought that putting a favorite treat in a difficult to reach place would make it even more exciting.

We let Damai out in the yard and ran over to the window so see how she would solve the problem of food up a tree above her head. To our surprise her first order of business was a swim! She walked directly out the edge of the moat, turned around and lowered herself into the water. The air temperature was about 40 degrees, and I have no idea what the water temperature was but it certainly was not a day at the beach! She stayed sitting in the water with her front paws on the edge of the moat calmly looking around for several minutes before getting back out. She did eventually get the rabbit down from the tree with no difficulty, but all the keepers could talk about was her unseasonal swim. Perhaps she wants to join the Polar Bear Club, whose members take an icy dip in the ocean on New Year’s Day.

Since she didn’t find the rabbit in the tree too challenging, we tried something more difficult. There are large logs in the yards that are stuck down into holes so that they remain upright. They are for the cats to use as scratching posts. There is one that is about 11 feet high, so we tried putting her rabbit on top of that. No problem! It took her a while to figure out just where it was—she could smell it but not see it. She was patrolling her yard checking to see if any strange new tiger was in the area, and when she got to the third level she was above the rabbit and could see it on top of the pole. She came charging down and climbed straight to the top of the pole. The bigger the cat the more difficult it is for them to climb straight up, since their weight is supported on their claws. Damai’s diminutive size was an advantage here, and luckily FONZ Photo Club member Craig Salvas was there and captured it all. He was kind enough to share his pictures with us. I particularly like the one where she is posing at the bottom of the pole before she climbs up. Enjoy!

Back to Top of 2012