Friday, 29 August 2008

History Has Been Made!

Aug 25, 2008 - I Saw Madonna Moving Her Baby!

There were a lot of noises this morning. We put the cubs all together again and Hulooo did not give his little brothers any chance before he caught a guinea fowl. We also had to fix the corner of the quarantine camp with chicken wires etc. Suddenly, we heard baby tiger cries again. I saw Madonna standing next to the trees where she normally hides her cubs. Then, she carefully picked one up in her mouth and started walking with caution. She was moving one of her cubs! I asked staff to quickly leave the camps since she was clearly feeling unsafe again.
Hulooo whined the whole day wanting to be together with humans. It is for his own good that we limit contact with him. JenB tried sneaking close to Hulooo a couple of times, being very friendly and lying calmly next to Hulooo. However when he touched Hulooo in a playful act, he got roared at by Hulooo. I feel so bad for little JenB who has now accepted Hulooo but Hulooo still thinks we are his only playmate - problem of being the lone cub without any other tiger to play with! It will be quite a while for Hulooo to learn to play with his kind but we must try!

Aug 26, 2008 - Scary Sight - Madonna Pacing with Baby Tiger in Mouth!

It was so cold this morning when I stepped out of the door that I immediately worried about Madonna. It was minus 6 last night - the coldest since Madonna gave birth. I arrived at the camps around 7.30am, and Vivienne reported bad news. For the past 10 minutes since she and Yolande (our new hire) got here, Madonna had been pacing with a cub in her mouth. She was not sure if the cub is live or dead.
My heart dropped. This is what I was dreading! Cathay did that - pacing with her cub in her mouth when she felt unsettled. I had a look through my binoculars - she was far, but it looked like the cub was curled up. If it were dead it would normally be limp. What about the other cub, if there was another?
I am torn and on the one hand wanted to intervene. But on the other hand, felt like this is a step that many supporters expect us to take. There are always risks and we have to take this risk. In the wild, normally only one out of a litter of tiger cubs survive. We have to take this risk.
I asked staff to leave the camps immediately, trying to leave her alone. I went to a hill where one could have a view of some sections of her camp. It pains me to see her pacing with the cub. All the other tigers, Cathay, TigerWoods and 327 were watching her from their side of the camp. My heart went out for Madonna and I wish I knew why she was doing this. Then I decided to have Cathay and TigerWoods enticed into the half hectare camp, so they won't be watching Madonna. Cathay has been doing well, with no signs of mastitis, which is an infection developed in suckling mothers who have too much milk.
TigerWoods came to the half hectare very quickly, knowing some food must be waiting for him. But Cathay did not come for a long time. Our predator whistle which is supposed to imitate the distress calls of prey animals and normally attracts the attention of predators also did not work. It took quite a bit of persuasion by Vivienne and Yolande with piece of meat to get her come to the half hectare camp.
Thank heavens Madonna was not seen pacing any more after 9:45 or so. I asked all staff to leave the site and not to return until two hours later for a remote check, in order to leave Madonna quiet and peace.
I was pleased that during late afternoon monitoring, when Madonna came out to feed and stroll, baby cries were heard again.
Is that one baby tiger or two baby tigers?

Aug 27, 2008 - Madonna Sunning with Baby

What a sight! Through binoculars, I saw Madonna lying under her favourite big tree sunning, with a baby tiger.
I quickly left in order not to disturb her, even though I relished this scene so much and wanted so much to have a better look.
Hulooo is still scared of his young brothers and would growl if they tried to play with him, but he seemed to be getting along better with the cubs, sleeping under the same pole shelter during the day. Unfortunately, we must harden our heart to not to succumb to his begging whines to play with us.

Aug 28, 2008 - Mystery Solved

It has been 10 days since Madonna gave birth and I have been looking forward to today. The first 10 days were crucial for the cubs' survival so we made a rule to not to disturb Madonna to decrease the chance of her abandoning her babies. I had been dying to know how many there are and their gender but I had to refrain myself from interfering, however painful it may be!
Today their danger period passed, I anxiously waited for the late afternoon feeding time for the tigers. We planned to go into her maternity camp - over one hectare in size and check on the details of her baby tigers when she would be eating.
I had everything prepared: drawing Madonna's attention to other things so she would not pay attention to us entering her camp; feeding her less the previous day so she would spend more time and focusing more on eating today; clean towels for touching the babies when checking on their gender so no human smells would be left on them; etc etc etc.
All went according to my plan. Johnny and Yolande were left next to the feeding camp so Madonna would not pay attention to me and Vivienne. We used another gate in the far end, next to 327's camp to enter Madonna's camp.
My heart was racing, even though I treaded carefully in the grass and bushes, fending off thorned branches, while all the time trying to select a route that had trees as shield from the sight of Madonna.
I briefly checked the bush where we saw her through the branches some days ago and there was nothing. We continued to the big tree where I believed the babies should be. That was also approximately the direction I saw her disappearing into when she was about to give birth; that was also where I observed her diving into through my binoculars while I was spying behind a bush. That was also where I saw her sunning under the tree yesterday morning.
I had a sense of guilt, as if I were about to steal Madonna's babies from her. I could hardly breathe. My legs felt heavy and it seemed such a long trek to me. But finally we managed to walk to that area without any accidents, neither tripping over nor gotten bitten by thorns. I was convinced that the cubs would be in the ditch under the big tree.
But there were nothing in that part of the ditch under the tree! I was worried - did Madonna know what was going to happen and had moved her cubs? She did seem more impatient today when we were opening the gate to let her into the feeding camp. I looked around over the ditch and still saw nothing.
"Oh there!", Vivienne hushed. I looked up, and to my great joy, I saw there are two (our guess was right) little baby tigers - curled up on the bank of the ditch, both very much alive!
I was overjoyed! So many worries, so many sleepless nights, since the day she lost her first litter of cubs. So much preparation, so many repeated instructions that I was fearful my staff regards me as a paranoid old woman! So many phone calls and so much advice I sought, that I was fearful of imposing on people! And so much help and so many standby supports I have enlisted, to prepare for every eventuality! However, Madonna defied my underestimation of her and proved me wrong - that she could bring up her own little baby tigers, the second time round!
I battled to overcome my emotions and stayed calm, while taking a few quick photos of the cubs. The cubs gave me silent hisses to protest my intrusion but without loud cries, which would attract attention to them from their enemies. They were just adorable and I felt so privileged to see them.
Now time to check their gender! All previous births were boys, how I and our supporters had been praying for girl cubs! We used clean towel to carefully part the leg of the first cub - a boy! My heart stopped beating... Now the second cub, but it was crouching so I could not turn it around. I picked it up using our towel and saw, to my great relief and excitement, it is a baby girl!
I felt like crying out, but I never cry...
We laid down the cub and they calmed down quickly as soon as we distanced ourselves by a couple of meters. I took a few more photos and quickly left by the route we came.
We went back to the camp where Madonna was feeding, still frenzily, as if nothing had happened. She was calm and I am relieved, thinking our escapade had escaped her notice. But Johnny said that she saw us going in (as quiet as we were!) but did not seem to mind. Funny! So maybe she wanted me to check? Maybe that was why she was pacing with a cub in her mouth the other day? After all, she has a special bond with me... Maybe maybe..

But History had been made!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Stranger Came

Tonight something strange happened. My cat Sissy, the wild one that I tamed (see my blog on Cat Clan from a year ago), normally shows up at my door when I return after sunset from the tiger camp. She is always punctual except a couple of times when she showed up slightly late. On such occassions I always call out her name and I worry if she is not there. Farmers outside Laohu Valley put out baits to poison jackals and caracals and often domestic cats and dogs are victims.
I began to worry that no Sissy showed up after an hour. This is unusual. When I called her name, I seemed to vaguely hear some grumbling noise of a cat. However, in the darkness of my veranda, I could see nothing.
Almost 8 pm, I was so happy to hear my call got answered, though somehow not very much like Sissy's sweet high voice. Out of the darkness came a cat, but a Ginger one! For a moment I thought this was Mao, a Ginger cat that is also the son of Mommy but now lives with Mommy between Johnny and Viviennes' house. Ginger cat was also lovely and affectionate as Mao and Sissy and not the least shy. But one thing that got me wonder if it was Mao was his tail - which looked like it had been cut at the tip!
I fed him biltong, and he devoured two little plates as if he had not eaten for days. He wanted my affection so much that he would call if I was not paying him attention, like Mommy cat, Mao's mother and the source of all cats at Laohu Valley.
I called Johnny who confirmed Mao is still around, so this Ginger must be a stranger, so I shall call him now by that name. Where did Stranger come from? Does he have a owner? I now worried that there might have been a fight whereby Sissy was injured? Or killed? I went out to my Veranda outside my bedroom and called her again. To my relief, I heard Sissy! But I could not see her...
I looked around and through the dim light emitted out of my bedroom, I saw Sissy perched on the column of the veranda! I now understand! Sissy has been observing Stranger quietly and followed all that have happened. Fortunately, I took precautions to shut Stranger in the living room so Sissy won't hesitate to come into my bedroom. She did hear the meowing somewhere. After a short while she came inside.
I now did not know what to do. Stranger was meowing inside the living room, wanting attention. So I decided to let him inside my bedroom anyway. Sissy saw him and went forward to smell him. I was relieved that the cats seemed to have no animosity towards each other. However, Sissy went under the bed after the sniffing. Stranger jumped on my bed, which he seemed to have no fear of, and wanted to eat the biltong I had laid out for Sissy, so I took the dish and stuck it under the bed where Sissy was hiding. Stranger jumped off the bed and went under the bed, Sissy had another sniff but ran under the bathtub in my bathroom.
I took Stranger into my bathroom and the cats had another mutual sniff. I then sat on the floor checking if Stranger might have flees, etc any parasites. He looked very clean and must have been a domestic cat. There were however some ear mites on his ears, which I began to take off wherever I could. He was very good natured and did not struggle much for most part, even though he frumbled about the pain. In between I let him and Sissy have a sniff again. In the end, Stranger was fed up, just after I picked up a tiny live mite from his ear lobe. Stranger tried to bite me, though not hard. He tried to claw me, but also just symbolic.
I was satisfied for the moment that he wouldn't pass any disease to Sissy and let him loose. I carried Sissy to my bed, who did not seem to have trouble with occupying it. Stranger followed her and was just about to jump onto my bed too, when Sissy suddenly swapped him with her paw! Stranger was stunned and could not move for a while, looking at Sissy, puzzled. Sissy clearly regarded my bed as her sacred territory!
He gave yet another try but was met with same harsh treatment. He ended up whining miserably, not knowing which next step to take. I am glad at lease Sissy seemed otherwise relaxed, not angry at me for bringing a stranger in. She even ate a couple of pieces of biltong. However when I tried to have a head rub with her, she seemed to retreat, unlike her normal self, and even reached out a paw almost as if to claw me, but stopped short of doing that. She was not as happy as normal.
Stranger made another attempt to jump on the bed but was scared off by Sissy lunging forward at him! After that Sissy curled up and narrowed her eyes. Stranger whined some more and then made a daring move-he jumped onto my bed from my right side whereby I had been lying on my stomach recording all that is happening on my blackberry, with Sissy on my left.
Anticipating a cat fight and without wanting to be caught in the middle, I left my bed. Sissy looked at Stranger through her narrowed eyes, which must have made Stranger feel uncomfortable, for he jumped off my bed out of his own accord. He crouched down under my sofa chair miserably and I had to give him some consolation strokes.
Sissy meanwhile seemed to be dozing off, with right eye closed and left eye a sliver open, no doubt vigilant at all times. I am going to have a "peaceful" night no doubt!
(End Note: the night was relatively peaceful, with Sissy staunchly defending her territory - my bed. Stranger kept on grumbling about his "on the floor" status but no war broke out between the two).

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Cathay Leaves Cubs, Hulooo Meets Younger Brothers

Cathay seemed to know what was happening this morning and did not need any convincing before she dashed into the 9 hectare camp, where TigerWoods was eagerly waiting. Having been apart for so long, the two showered each other with affection - chuffing, rubbing heads, hugging, chasing one another and more.We separated her from her cubs so Cathay could mate again in a few weeks and she can give birth in January - during the hottest time of the year, so we won't have to worry as much about cold weather interfering with rearing her babies and therefore also reducing human intervention. She could still see and interact with her cubs but the termination of suckling would make her come into oestrus again in a few weeks.
Cathay sniffed around the 9 hectare camp from which she had been absent for a long time. Cathay loves TigerWoods so much and had wanted to be with him for a while. In the past weeks, she got more and more impatient when the cubs disturbed her peace of being alone and often would get up and leave when the cubs drop themselves on top of her. Still, she is a fantastic mother and loves her cubs. After frolicking with TigerWoods for a while, she would go back to the commonly shared fence from time to time checking on her cubs. I am relieved that she seemed to be just checking to make sure her cubs were ok, instead of wanting to get back with them. I am torn as I just love to see them being together, but we had to do this for the big goal of the project.There were a lot of distractions for her besides TigerWoods. Once the potential threat by two Hadida birds to "take" the ostrich leg away (we had given to TigerWoods yesterday) made her rush to protect her food and she carried it into the dense trees next to the river.
Another important event was to take place today: we will put Hulooo in with his younger siblings - JenB and Jix, so Hulooo will acquire company and possibly also get re-accepted by Cathay in a few weeks. None of these had been attempted before so we must be both cautious but daring at the same time. It requires close monitoring, supervision and control. Thank Heavens Hulooo is so easy to work with and just followed our "directions" into the quarantine camp where he was going to meet the cubs physically at their home territory.
As soon as the iron sliding gate of the breeding center opened, the cubs dashed out of the breeding center to show Hulooo who are the boss! My concerns were gone when I saw it was Hulooo who was the weaker of them! JenB and his brother bared their teeth emitting threatening growls and rolled on the ground picking a fight with Hulooo. Poor Hulooo! His only resort was to avoid them. From time to time Hulooo would come to his human parents giving us a cuddle or a rub, as if to receive some courage in order to face those menacing cubs, or to beg us get him out of here and away from the cubs.
The cubs would not let Hulooo alone and followed him wherever he went. They roared menacing roars at Hulooo who would just lower his head as if showing submission. Cathay came over to check what was happening and cubs only remembered her absence when she showed up. Cathay seemed to be satisfied that the cubs were not alone and would disappear again after her regular checking.
Hulooo seemed to have fallen in love with the same pole of the pole shelter, just like the other adult tigers, and rubbed affectionately against it, hugging and smelling it (we always wondered what it is about that section of the log!)... To avoid the growling JenB, he even developed affection for another pole just opposite the usual one. After a while, he even ignored the menacing growls and continued with his love affaires with the wooden poles almost oblivious of the bullying growls.
JenB was the one that carried his threat through by trailing Hulooo whereas Jix went to follow Cathay and continued following her from his side of the fence whenever Cathay showed up. However the cubs in general seemed to forget Cathay's absence as long as she was out of their sight. Cathay, as if not to arouse further attention from her cubs, would quietly slip away into the trees after making sure her cubs were in good hands. It seemed that having Hulooo around also occupied the cubs' minds so they did not whine about their mother being on the other side of the fence too much.
Hulooo discovered the smells of the other tigers on one of the tree trunks. The Amazing thing he did was to "spray" it too. Funny that he was not yet mature so the "spray" that came out of him was not the normal transparent white sticky matter, but rather his Pee, which shot horizontally across onto the tree trunk. It is incredible that at this tender age he knew to cover the other tigers' smells.
Things were going well as the cubs and their older brother getting more used to one another. The day was getting hot-time for the tigers to have naps. So I decided to rather leave Hulooo in the cub’s camp and Vivienne and I would monitor them alternately. Hulooo just wanted someone around, preferably human. So I decided to go away a bit around at one stage and see what would happen. While I had walked "away", suddenly, I heard roars and commotion coming out of the far corner of the Quarantine camp where several other camps meet. I ran close and saw Hulooo being bullied and even pawed at by the cubs. Hulooo had probably wanted their company and had gone over to the cubs when he saw me going away... He seemed a lost soul being also shocked by the electric wires a couple of times as well. Both Cathay, who had been lying in the shade on the other side of the fence and Madonna who came out to investigate the commotion, watched with interests.
I called Hulooo's name out, and he saw me and quickly ran across the camp towards me. He came into the breeding center, where he chuffed at me non-stop, grateful I was back! I had no doubt he would have hugged me if I were inside with her, wanting consolation. Thereafter, no matter how I called him to come out, he wouldn't, fearful of the bullies. After a while, he would only come out briefly and chuff at me, but returning inside the Breeding Center immediately as if that his refuge.
Hulooo was enticed out of the breeding center in late afternoon, to spend more time with his younger brothers. JenB, though growling on the one hand, actually wanted to play with Hulooo. He tried to stalk Hulooo and even reached out to grab Hulooo's hind leg to play. However, it is apparent to us now that Hulooo, having only played with humans, has no idea how to play with other tigers. He was so scared of his little brothers, while he was four times their size. It will be one of our main tasks to get Hulooo re-socialized as a tiger and learn to interact with other tigers.
Low and behold, Hulooo did demonstrate he was a tiger when it came to food! When two pieces of wildebeest meat were brought in, Hulooo embarked on eating his immediately. However, when he saw, from the corner of his eyes, another nice chunk being eaten by his brothers, he ran over to it in a lightening speed and grabbed the meat, pawing one of the cubs and escaped. His speed took his brothers by surprise to say the least. However, he forgot the other piece of meat, which was promptly stolen by JenB. Before we knew it, Hulooo staged another coup - he ran over to JenB and stole his meat back, carrying it to where the other piece of meat was lay, wanting to monopolize both. We scolded him, and picked up the second piece of meat to give to JenB, who carried it between the Pole shelter and the tree trunk next to it. Jix tried to use the same trick on Hulooo to get his meat, but Hulooo was on good guard. Jix went to JenB, only to be growled at. JenB did not know how to protect his meat from being stolen by his brother and tried all he could: lying on top, hugging it, dragging it to the top of the tree trunk, etc. But Jix would not give up and managed to grab hold of one end of the meat.
Hulooo had finished his food in no time and sneaked up to the cubs, wanting to also steal theirs again. We had to stop him and he seemed to know he was behaving badly, showering us with head rubs. JenB finally let go the food and let Jix have his way. He went to look for Hulooo. He was part playful and part threatening. Hulooo just did not know what to do. How I wished he would just play with his brother as if he was playing with us! How I was afraid he might become another 327 when he grew up! Hulooo seemed to improve a bit at one point, lying down on the ground just like JenB, growling - the right way of facing it. However his nerves wavered very soon and he would go away again. He went inside the breeding center, but JenB followed and continued growling at Hulooo. Hulooo sniffed around other sections of the breeding center, but I am not sure if it was out of curiosity or just pretending to find something to do.
The sun was setting and I thought Hulooo had enough today and we started calling him to get out of breeding center so we could take him back to his Tree camp. Hulooo was eager to get out but the terrorist JenB was guarding the gate. Hulooo paced inside not knowing want to do. He tried another time, only to be bullied back inside again by JenB. We continued to call Hulooo, who became more and more anxious that he eventually threw himself down on the floor and cried in a helpless voice. It was both comical to see him terrorized by a little cub and heart breaking to see him cry like that. We continued to encourage him: "Hulooo, Hulooo, come on! Get out! Don't be bullied." Hulooo understood. He got up and in a determined stride, walked past the growling JenB, who suddenly stopped growling, probably perplexed by Hulooo's courage. Hulooo needed a cuddle as consolation, and was rewarded with it. He ran back to his little tree camp with excitement. He is such a sweet natured cat but now it is time we build him up as a tiger.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Worries, More Worries

Thunder woke me up from my dreams at 3.30am and rain poured down. It surprised me as it looked nice and pleasant before I went to bed. I worried about Madonna and her babies. Should we intervene and move the babies (if we can!) to drier ground? Nick Marx had advised against it, saying the tiger mother will know to keep them dry. Does Madonna know how to keep them dry? They could get pneumonia in damp and cold conditions! Then I thought of my cat Sissy, who had raised several litters of kittens successfully in the wild, praying that Madonna would do the same.
As the lightening struck more and thunder continued, the rain seemed to be heavier. Even my wild cat Sissy hid herself somewhere and would not come out to answer my calls. I couldn't stop worrying, cursing why it chose now to rain but glad at least the temperature was not that low. As I listened to my watch ticking away, I asked Heaven to please stop raining but my pray seemed to go unanswered. Now going back to sleep became a challenge for me, as I listened to the rain dropping, worrying sick for Mother and babies in this foul weather…
It rained for several hours. How I prayed that mother and cubs managed to survive the rain...
The morning was windy and Madonna had a brief appearance before disappearing again. I wondered how the cubs were. No cries - were they alive or dead? I could only guess that they were fine, since Madonna had gone back to them after a stroll.
In the afternoon, I had wanted to get there before Madonna came out for afternoon walk so I could peep her hiding place. But when I arrived about 3.40, Madonna had already come out and I quickly had Cathay enticed into the breeding center (Cathay is incredibly smart and as she saw food in Vivienne's hand, she would go into the breeding center voluntarily to be shut inside so we can place the food for her wherever!). Out of direct sight of Madonna, so Cathay would not be able to challenge her. We let Madonna come into the adjoining camp where we have been feeding her and she looked visibly a lot more relaxed without Cathay's mean looks.
I felt guilty hiding in the distance behind a small bush to observe her. In between feeding she rolled around in the grass enjoying the wind. At about 4.30, she decided to head back to her camp. Through my binoculars, I could see her being extremely cautious, looking back and forth and left and right, only disappearing into the dense bush in the ditch after she had made "certain" that no one was observing her where she was heading to. I noticed that she seemed to also take a roundabout way of getting to her cubs, should there be others around.
What a Cat Mother! This reminded me of the little cat mother I ran into in 1999 on my land trip from Kenya to Tanzania. We had stopped at a Curio shop on the potholes filled road and not wanting to buy any stuff, I went for a walk around the shop. This tiny cat was walking clumsily in the distance so I caught up quietly, finding her carrying a tiny kitten in her mouth. When she arrived under the bridge, she laid down the kitten where there were already two other kittens there. She turned around seeing me looking and emitted a warning "hiss". I took the cue and left, not wanting to disturb her. However, half an hour later, before we left, I went to have another look to make sure mother and kittens were alright. I was surprised that mother and kittens were all gone -the little cat has moved all her babies away yet again, seeing that someone (me!) had seen their whereabouts...
Now Madonna seemed to be following her cat instincts and I am proud...

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Madonna Seen Licking Baby Tiger!

During night monitoring, Johnny saw through the dense bush that Madonna was licking one baby. This morning Vivenne heard one cry. We saw Madonna coming out to stroll more often and was out for about an hour. I was worried. Cathay never spent this much time out during the first few days and always stayed close to her babies. Cathay saw Madonna and immediately became hostile, looking at Madonna with a menacing and threatening look. I am sure she would have bitten Madonna were it not for the fence. Cathay was even angry at her cubs for being friendly to Madonna, swapping one at one stage and lay on top of another to prevent the cub getting close to Madonna, when Cathay saw Madonna approaching. Cathay also kicked the second cub at the same time.
Such was the temper of Cathay - a true protective tigress, but also a jealous one!
Madonna eventually she went back to her camp but only paced along the fence, instead of going back to her cub. Fortunately, a lot of crying came out of the trees and we saw her dashing back to the dense bush... I was relieved, for the time being.. I must say I am so proud of Madonna - she proved me wrong! I had thought that she would not rear her cubs this time and had gone out on a limb to prepare for that eventuality - sending staff to train, calling handrearing experts to standby just in case... But here you go! She is rearing her own cub/s! I am so grateful to her as well!
During Madonna's afternoon stroll, Cathay became more vicious with her cubs - biting, clawing and crushing one or another under,and the cubs cried and whined under her crushing weight that I was fearful she might hurt her cubs so I scolded her: "Cathay, don't be nasty!". She seemed to comprehend and looked at me with a stealing look, perhaps feeling guilty. However, she hated that the cubs chuffed at Madonna. She stared at Madonna with malice...
Just when Vivienne and I were about to leave the camps about 6.10pm, loud baby cries came out of Madonna's camp. I wondered what was happening? Where was Madonna? Was she not feeding the cub? Was she disturbed by Cathay's malicious attitude? I thought of shutting Cathay in the breeding center so Madonna could not see her but being so well fed Cathay did not even come close to the breeding center and her attention was focused entirely on Madonna too.
I was really worried, the baby cries contuinued even louder as time went on. I could vaguely distinguish two voices so believed there were two cubs. I rushed back to Villa TigerLi and called Eddie. How long should we allow the baby to cry before we intervene? Eddie said the cubs would not make it through the night without mother suckling. Not much else Eddie could offer at the moment except to make a report after my 8 o'clock monitor.
At 8pm, I went back to the camps, afraid of making any noise or using any lights which might disturb her. The moon had not come out so I literally walked in the dark on tiptoe, occasionally using my cellphone light to re-orient me in case I ran into the electric fences, or hit myself against the breeding center wall.
I was relieved that all is so quiet, with just the sound of frogs and crickets. Even birds have gone to sleep. No sound of baby tiger cries.
I believe that when darkness fell, before the moon comes out, even tigers don't see that well, which had calmed Madonna down.
I stood under the milky way and it feels so close as if I can just reach out and grab one of those beautiful shining stars. The sound of the crickets soothing in this wilderness.
I left as quietly as I came. Tomorrow, we must try to shut Cathay inside when Madonna comes out taking fresh air!

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Madonna Getting Close to Giving Birth?

It was 105th day for Madonna's pregnancy. She looked still very relaxed and only had a bit of sign in the afternoon when she whined a few times. But it was not as frequent as last time before her delivery. Is it because she knew better? Is second time less painful? Cathay certainly was very relaxed in her second birth. Maybe Madonna would be the same? Would she give birth quietly this time?
Dinner was of no interests to Madonna, which would normally be a sign that her delivery was close and could be tomorrow. So 24 hour monitoring started.
Aug 18, 2008 Madonna Gave Birth???
Madonna's pacing and whining increased, much like her pre-birth condictions last time, but unlike Cathay's second time birth-giving. I am worried as I observe her now, fearing that she might not have learned from her first time birthing experience. My heart goes out to her. I am glad the clouds seems to be clearing up a bit due to the wind and it becomes warmer when the sun shines through. Madonna needs all the help from the weather to give her time to suckle the cubs. But if the weather is cold, she needs to suckle the cubs iummediately or the cubs could die.
I had Cathay shut inside the breeding center, as two tigeresses can't tolerate one another, especially during birth. Madonna has the tendency to want to be close to Cathay, which makes it even worse - if she could see Cathay, she might want to get close to Cathay, thus abandoning her own cubs. However, despite the tricks we used, Cathay refused to go into the inner quarters (where she would be completely out of sight of Madonna) of the breeding center, for fear of that dreaful gate which would shut her inside. We gave up in the end - at least it is better that she is not walking about distracting Madonna.
Now for the patient waiting...
At 10.30, she seemed to be trying to make a "poo", which should be the first sign of contraction-birth giving. I saw something tried to get out of her but did not come out. Immediately after this contraction, Madona dashed off into the drainage full of grass, trees and bushes that I could no longer see her. I radioed Vivienne to join me. Madonna was nowhere to be seen through either my binoculars or the monoscope. She might know to lie down giving birth this time? Cathay did so the second time. I prayed for Madonna.
Vivienne arrived but we still could not see her from anywhere. I also did not want to disturb her by checking as it would mean driving into her camp in a vehicle. We will just have to wait.
Madonna kept us in the dark. It is now 4pm and we have not seen or heard any sound from her or the baby tigers that might have been born. Were I to judge it according to her first time, she should be whining and pacing nervously if she had not given birth. But now 5 hours have passed without her showing up. How I wish this means that she has learned the trade of giving birth and has been quietly suckling her babies! I am anxious..
My last resort would be to wait till feeding time and see if she comes out to eat. If she does, we could possibly walk into her camp and have a peep in the grass and see what is there!
Now it is feeding time but she did not show up. She would be pretty hungry by now since she did not eat her food last night. There is no way I wanted to disturb her by driving into her camp. I am now convinced she has given birth since 7 hours have passed. I believe she is doing her job as a good mother, as I heard no baby cries, except a couple of birds crying which I briefly mistook as baby tiger cries. Although I am not completely sure, by all signs she is suckling her cubs, unless of course they are dead.
Our team has to do the 24 hour monitoring again just in case. If we hear any cries, she must not be suckling, or running out of milk. At 8pm, I still did not hear any cries. The full moon is coming out so fingers crossed the weather is not too cold tonight!
Aug 19, 2008 Madonna Appeared
At 9.10 this morning, she was out briefly to drink water and then disappeared into the trees again. I am pretty certain by now she had given birth. I am so anxious on the one hand, wanting to know how many babies, and worry about disturbing her on the other hand. We left her alone. At 4.10 she came out, having such a relaxed and confident demeanour about her. It was as if to say: "I am now a proud mother!" She rolled on the ground bearing her belly, as if to give us opportunity to check her nipples, which did look a bit red-suckled! Well at least two of the nipples!
When she went back, we traced her route and saw her going into another bush. We saw through the binoculars that she was there and I seemed to have even heard a baby tiger cry! She must have moved her cub/s from the ditch to this dense bush while we were away....
I must bear this mystery of how many babies until I can find out safely... For now, I am content that she has become a mother and given birth in the wild, in the true sense of the word!