Monday, 30 January 2012
MADONNA’S THREE CUBS ARE A HANDFUL
Madonna & 327’s three cubs are now three months old. They were rarely seen for the past three months, under the remarkable care of Madonna in complete natural environment, isolated from even other tigers, never mind humans. However, now that they are mobile, we have to habituate them to humans a bit for a number of reasons. If they are too wild, we will have trouble handling them in times of veterinary need, such as illness.
Princess was a good example. The governments require that these precious animals be microchipped and registered, but we failed to catch her for microchipping when she was two months old. When she was one year old, we gave another try, but this time it required sedatives, which tigers and cheetahs react notoriously badly. However, we never managed to catch her, as she flew through the electrified gate between her camp and an adjacent one, after seeing what was done to her brother King Henry.
So wherever we can, we tried to avoid immobilizing the tigers to reduce the risks to them. 3-months old cubs are getting pretty strong to handle but in a month it would be impossible to handle without sedatives, particularly since they have such brute force. So we began the process of their habituation from a couple of weeks ago.
To begin with, a big wilderbeest carcass was laid out for Madonna and her family in the mini camp next to their 2ha riverine camp. Too big to drag it back into the dense riverine area for her family to consume, she resigned at calling her cubs out from the trees to supper eventually. The cubs revealed their beautiful and adorable little faces finally to us. They certainly required time to get used to us, as they kept running for cover into the bushes or behind the big tree. None the less, sometimes they would calm down and head back to where mom would be lying once they see the humans are not being too erratic.
A few days later, another young eland bull of about 300 kg was provided to Madonna. Having eland for breakfast for the first time in her life, she was initially unsure what to do, dragging one leg or another in her attempt to drag this huge carcass to the riverine area for her large family. But the eland is nearly three times her weight and refused to move an inch. She had to settle for this mini-camp again and gathered her kids from the trees and led them to breakfast. By the end of the day, a significant dent had been made from the rear of the eland carcass. It was comical to see one cub’s head was nearly completely buried within the dent.
The cubs certainly regarded us humans as threats, despite mom Madonna’s encouragement to stay in sight for us. Every time we even made some movements, the cubs would dash for the bushes close or far. Yesterday morning I saw all three of them rushing to the corner of the little camp, at the junction with 7ha camp where TigerWoods is currently residing. TigerWoods’ was envious of the big eland next door and had spent the entire day crouching close by, never taking his eyes off the carcass.
When we became still, two of the cubs came out of their hiding and went over to mom again. After half an hour there seemed to be no sight of the 3rd cub, as we looked into every bush through binoculars. I was just wondering how the 3rd cub could disappear when Madonna all of sudden stood up and started walking to the closed gate that leads to the 7Ha camp. Seeing that it was closed she went back to her shade under the tree but repeated this 3 or 4 times. Suddenly I realized the increasingly loud chirping sound coming from TigerWoods’ camp was not a bird, but a tiger cub! I looked in that direction and saw the little head of the 3rd cub behind the long grass. That explained his magical disappearance but how on earth did it manage to get through to the other side of the fence???
Although TW didn’t seem to be bothered at all either by the cry of this little visitor or its intrusion, we quickly managed to guide him into the next adjacent camp-the quarantine camp. Madonna went inside the 7ha asa the gate was opened for her and she soon was reunited with her treasured baby, showering each other with head rubs and tender whines. Having been absent from this camp for several years, she clearly enjoyed its dense trees, long grasses and fresh smells, sniffing and jumping between tree trunks with the little cub trailing behind.
I searched for potential holes in the fence and realized that the cub had crawled through from under the iron mesh, where it needed stones to hold it down onto the ground. We fixed it there and then.
Seeing mom vanishing out of sight for a while now, the remaining two cubs started calling. We left them to sort out their plan as to where to spend the day, certain that they would return to their food in the mini-camp.
Upon arriving in the tiger rewilding center in the afternoon, I could hear the loud cry of a cub from even far away. I walked around the camp to investigate, not wanting to scare them with the sound of the vehicle. What I saw was hilarious. Madonna and two cubs were crouched on the 7Ha side of the open gate, where the 3rd cub was screaming at its heart content on the other side of the open gate. After a while Madonna got up and walking through the gate to the 3rd cub, rubbing heads and chuffing at him, intending to guide the cub into the natural 7Ha camp. She looked behind her once she crossed back into 7Ha only to see her 3rd cub refusing to cross the threshold, for one reason or another. I believe this was the cub that crawled through the fence as the cub kept running over to that spot and looking under it.
The other two cubs were frolicking the grass and got further and further away which prompted Madonna to follow them. Seeing mom going nearly out of sight the 3rd cub started his hysteric cry again, sounding so much like the cry of a human baby.
Poor Madonna was stopped in her tracks and turned back to her 3rd cub, again trying to coax him into following her into the 7Ha camp, but to no avail. In the end, she called her two other cubs back and lied down again in the same spot on the side of 7Ha facing the cub on the other side of the gate. The four just watched one another. Again, I left them to sort out their arrangement for the night, confident they would make a final decision.
Clearly we had our job marked out for us for next weeks!
Jan 27 2012