Back to Laohu Valley again and so many things have to be completed in next few weeks. I always miss the tigers when I am away so I looked forward to seeing them. I got a surprise this morning, for good and for bad! Madonna was pacing with a cub in her mouth along 9 hectare fence this morning, almost as if showing off to Cathay who was watching her lying in the grass on the other side of the fence. Every time Madonna passed Cathay, she would chuff at Cathay - the cub in her mouth did not seem to stop her. I was dead worried. Another cub was crying in the grass too. I told Vivienne to get Cathay and TW into the 40 hectare today so Cathay stops being a nuisance to Madonna.
Meanwhile, it looks like our experiment of putting Hulooo with his younger brothers has been a complete success. The three of them were now living together, playing together and resting together. The only time we must separate them is when they feed. Hulooo, very much like his dad, seems to have a bottomless stomach and would steal his brothers' food if he has the chance.
I made a decision to let Hulooo and his younger brothers go into 9 hectare camps tomorrow, given the good relationship of the three and in preparation for Cathay to be reintroduced back to all her sons after she has mated.
Sept 16, 2008. Foray Into 9 Hectare
An exciting day awaited the cubs though morning was with a freezing cold breeze.
Hulooo was waiting for us in the breeding centre; we walked in to greet him and startled a pigeon in the rafters. Hulooo’s attention was immediately drawn away from us and he contemplated the best way to reach it and decided that the most direct route was up the mesh. That didn’t help very much and he returned to terra firma and the pigeon took off. Having lost his meal he moved outside to pester the youngsters and ended up being chased by JenB, followed closely by Coco. Round and round they ran until Hulooo was tired out.
We opened the gate connecting the quarantine and 9ha camps and laid a piece of old meat to attract the attention of the cubs. Contrary to expectations, Coco was first to go through the gate; sniffing as he walked. Unsure of what his next move was, he retreated into the quarantine camp. Gathering his nerves together with both hands he again ventured into the 9ha enclosure. This time he was positive that he was on the right track he disappeared into the long grass full of fresh new smells, forgetting about the meat all together.
JenB had also plucked some courage together by this time and also made a move. Just as unsure as Coco he sat down in the gateway to ponder; deciding that if Coco could come out of it unscathed, then so could he! He hopped through following speedily in his brother’s footsteps. Next it was Hulooo’s turn and unsurprisingly he ran through eager to explore. All three of the cubs enjoyed themselves tremendously running around, stalking one another and investigating every blade of grass.
Hulooo stole my camera bag and we all chased him around trying to get it back. It was a challenge! At one point he took to the edge of a rock with residual pool of stream water underneath and I was so sure that my bag with all its content would be lost there! Thankfully, the bag was caught in some branches when Hulooo jumped down and we managed to salvage my bag, now firmly carrying it across my shoulder so not to give Hulooo any chance again. I was so pleased to see how happy the three were.
Hulooo found a bird in the afternoon and went first after it but lost interest after the second squawk. JenB and Coco took advantage of the hiatus and stole the bird, running off to parts unknown and fighting intermittently. Eventually all was quiet in that sector. As dusk began to settle we returned to the breeding centre with Hulooo in close attendance. We fed him, to his delight, but saw no sign of the other two; so we left the gate open should they wish to return, content that this move had proven a popular one with the young tigers!
Sept 17, 2008. Microchipping the Young Tigers
It has been a month as of yesterday since we separated Cathay from her cubs. Last time she came into oestrus after 22 days, which is longer than other tigresses as observed in zoos - normally between 5 to 10 days. Madonna had the same post partum oestrus cycle as well so I wonder if this is a characteristic of the South China Tigers, or a result that they live in natural conditions?! No one can tell me. Cathay's normal oestrus cycle is about once every month, but now, a month has past there was still no sign. Is this also because she lives like a wild tigress? I had planned, based on her post partum’s oestrus cycle, or normal monthly cycle for her to breed now so she could give birth in the hottest time of the year - January. I also wanted to supervise the reintroduction of her back to her cubs - including Hulooo (which is supposed to be a risky step) before I head back to London to look after the increasing number of affairs awaiting me. So I feel anxious.
It was going to be another important day, as we prepared for the microchipping of the three Cathay cubs. Hulooo was in the quarantine camp when we arrived and ambled into the breeding centre without any coercion and we closed him in. We had to entice JenB and Coco (who got his new name recently through a contest ran by one of our sponsors, Asian Tigers Group) back into the quarantine camp and into the breeding centre by dangling some meat up-wind from them. Madonna also smelt the meat and came galloping up to the fence to see if she was perhaps going to be treated to some, when she saw that she wasn’t going to receive any she walked away into the long grass; back to her hidey-hole.
The micro chipping turned out to be much more challenging than I had expected. When Madonna was treated for her dehydration at the age of 7 month, wild as she was, we easily caught her with a blanket. However, the two younger brothers proved to be truly wild! They were together in the outer section of the breeding centre ensconced in a breeding box, anticipating the upcoming events.
When our Vet Joseph arrived, I assigned tasks and chose a number of the bravest personnel to enter the cage armed with a blanket and a spade. JenB shot out of the box like a bat out of hell, growling ferociously as he was herded into a corner. He leapt up, ripped the blanket out of their hands, and retreated back into the box.
A second failed attempt and we retreated in good order to re-plan our strategy. Joseph asked if we had any cages and I was so relieved to let him know that not only we do, we have also been training them to use it, thank goodness! The cage was carried up to the sliding door and positioned it in such a way as to be the only escape from a gang of pursuers. JenB found himself deprived of free movement and, Joseph also decided, received a small amount of tranquiliser. This dose proved to be too small and when Dr Van Heerden dragged him out by his tail he spied a gap and took it; bolting around the cage and into the open.
He ran outside the breeding center, half way down the length of Hulooo’s old camp with all my staff members after him. Realizing that he was now in unfamiliar territory he turned around and was herded into the tiny camp in front of the quarantine camp. Here we witnessed to what lengths a cornered cat will go to, to escape! He climbed up the fence and through the electrified wires at the top -all the while being shocked by the current. However he was impervious to their throbbing and dropped down into the camp. Taking advantage of his predicament; the vet, himself in a lightening speed, was able to dose him with a slightly stronger sedative. This had the desired effect and he fell asleep, allowing the good doctor to implant the microchip. Three minutes after the sedative had been reversed JenB woke up.
Hulooo was next and the only trouble was he just wanted to play. Given the excitement surrounding him, he was even more hyper, again picking up my camera bag as a trophy! He had to be given a blanket to play with and the vet quickly injected the microchip under the skin of his neck. He whined for being grabbed at his neck but fortunately it was soon over.
Coco was last and we now had more experience. He was also chased into the crush cage and received a full dose of the sedative, putting him to sleep in a matter of minutes. He was also dragged out, the chip implanted and the sedative reversed. Realising how stressed they must have been we left them to recover.