Monday, 12 December 2011

327’s Baby Miracle

327 enjoying his moment

Well I judged too soon. Over the years there had been all kinds of comments and predictions either on the South China Tigers or on our tiger rewilding project.  Comments even by respected professionals included that 327 may have trouble breeding, not just because he got one testes but also because his lower back didn’t develop well  (which I could only assume was caused by being in  a cage during the early part of his life- he was a big fellow and had no opportunities to run and exercise) so he may have trouble inserting his sperm properly into a female.

We always had just one or two cubs in a litter for the past few years and I almost began to believe that some of these comments may have some truth in that, though I kept  hoping they were proven wrong.  Last week when we sighted Madonna’s two babies, I took it for granted that she had just two cubs, yet for another time. It was a bit disappointing but hey, we got two more babies, and offspring of 327 who unfortunately passed away in September.

It was the two-Months’ birthday of Madonna’s babies today. I was checking if Huwaa had eaten her first kill during today’s afternoon monitoring session. Having no luck in finding where she had hidden her kill (Bless her!), I decided to drive down to the same spot where I saw Madonna’s two cubs last week. Huwaa followed our vehicle over and encountered Madonna pacing along the fence on the other side. She seemed much more relaxed now seeing Huwaa, unlike a few months ago when she treated Huwaa with hatred. She even replied to Huwaa’s signature chuffs a couple of times.  While I was wondering if Madonna’s cubs were in the same spot in the dense thicket inside the river when I noticed that Huwaa’s attention was entirely drawn by something down there.  The cubs must have been there!  Huwaa tried to find ways to get closer to the fence for better look or to get over to the other side of the fence but there was no way due to the electric wires. She had to resign herself to sitting next to the fence and watch.  It was truly amazing that Huwaa could see something , since I could not detect the slightest moving of any grass or tree branches through my binos.

After some pacing Madonna went back towards the river, albeit hesitant- I was sure she didn’t want to reveal the positions of her babies but she couldn’t do much about either our vehicle or Huwaa who betrayed the locations of her babies.  I was wondering if Huwaa’s infectious chuff would flush out the cubs when out of the river thicket, there emerged a tiny tiger head.  Madonna went over to the cub, chuffing gently and licking its head.. “looks like a boy”, Vivienne said, “the head is kinda broad”.  My heart sank and I didn’t want to believe her.  I quickly took out my video camera and started recording this rare sight. The fence was in between but I was hopeful we might be able to see the gender of the cub through the magnifying function.  

I played the video back there and then, magnifying the image several fold. “Looks like a girl, “ now Vivienne said. “Are you sure?” I asked and so hoped it to be true. I played the video back a few more times and it was clear that we were looking at a girl. I was elated..
While we were celebrating this fact, Madonna headed back deep into the river thicket, followed by her wobbling little cub. It was hard to see through the thicket but I could hear her chuffing, perhaps making connections to her other cub who had been calling her in a quiet call.

Then loud sounds ensured as if someone was crunching on bones. Perhaps she started feeding?  While I was looking at the video image of her baby daughter for the umpteenth time in pride and happiness,  Madonna led her babies out into the open on the other side of the river bank. “She has three,”  Vivienne said in astonishment. “What?!” I snatched my binos back from  her and started looking through in great excitement, “Three??! !”. But I could only see two cubs. “Perhaps I was imagining things?” Vivienne said in her usual humorous but even toned voice. I passed my binos back to her to double check, disappointed but taking it for granted. “It is three,” Vivienne confirmed, “I thought I was imagining things”. I looked once more into my binos and couldn’t be any happier as I saw three cute tiny stripy cubs frolicking in the grass and around mommy Madonna!
I published my last blog too soon. 

And, 327, you left a great legacy!

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