Monday, 3 March 2008

“Escaping” Mother Tiger

April 1: Third Day All Calm
Morning: one cub was suckling on one nipple and another one battled to get to the same one and tried to push the first cub away. The first cub held on and the second cub pushed him. They nearly had a fight and the commotion alerted Cathay who lifted her head to watch.. The cubs calmed down each having a nipple to suckle from.
I noticed Cathay would get up and go to the outer cage to sun a bit when it is quiet and when she feels safe to leave her babies asleep for a moment. When she comes back, she always give them that endearing greeting of chuffing. She is so gentle with the cubs and aware what her sharp teeth could do to the vunerable babies and I feel that she was almost in pain by being so careful in trying to control the width of her mouth so as not to hurt the cubs when she was carrying them in her mouth.. The sound she uttered when she licked them this afternoon were to my ears full of love and emotions. When one of the cubs was straying a bit, she gently picked it up with her mouth and gently gently moved it a bit. I just can't reconcile the strengths and deadliness of her bites with such gentleness and care.
Cathay normally gets hungry in late afternoon. She would get up and start pacing. We use this opportunity to let her out into the quarantine camp for a stroll before dinner. When she is eating, asa she hears a little cry from her babies, she would stop eating, chuff at them and listen carefully, and resume eating if no more cries are heard. The cubs are very quiet and rarely cry though.
April 2. Love Spray
All as usual. Mother Cathay suckling cubs calmly...
We can't tell the cubs' gender yet since mother is rearing them and we don't want touch the cubs which may increase risks of mother rejecting them due to strange smells. The cubs are smaller than their brother Junior born last November.
She was in the outer cage when I came to visit. The cubs were on their own. While I watched the cubs, Cathay continued to chuff at me. Then she sprayed at me all of a sudden, and I did not have time to shun the spray. She continued to spray at me through the cage, a behaviour that marks me as her territory.! I can't but say I feel proud, even though my camera and my legs were now covered with her matter.
April 3 - "Escaping Tigress"
Every day we let Cathay out of the breeding center in the morning for a stroll in the quarantine camp, and another one in late afternoon right before dinner. This afternoon, at around the same time, Cathay started pacing, waiting for staff to lift the gate up and let her out. However, the cubs kept on crying for her and she would always hurry back to her "den". When staff finally opened the gate, Cathay only managed to step out for a few seconds before the cubs cried again. She hurriedly went back to suckle them. The cubs are growing and now need to eat more often, whcih is becoming more demanding on Cathay, who has less and less time to go out for strolls. You can see how hesitant she was-wanting to go out in the camp and attending the cubs' need at the same time. I felt sorry for her! However, she was never resentful of the cubs for her lack of freedom when she comes back to them and would suckle and and handle them with love and care.
After another attempt to go out, she settled back in her den again and suckled her crying cubs. We had forgot to close the gate due to the work needed to be done with Madonna. When a visiting guest arrived, we went to see Cathay. She was still suckling but the cubs were quieter now. She picked up one of her cubs just like many other times she had done to move them around a bit. But this time, when she turned around, she saw the gate wide open. Instead of putting the cub on the den's floor, she walked out of the gate carrying her cub in her mouth before I could react to what she did!
The gate system at breeding center is kind of complicated and the outer gates could only be closed from outside. By the time I alerted Tigris to come to close the gate, Cathay had dropped her first cub in the grass, come back in her den and picked up the second cub. She was angry we shut her in while her first cub was outside, so we let her out, thinking that she would just need a walk and would come back in to have dinner. How wrong we were!!!
For the next two hours, it was a battle to get her back in. She paced along the fence carrying one cub or another in turn, with 327 whining and chuffing in the neighbouring camp. As it got darker, we were battling to attract Cathay's atteniton with her food- to which she showed no interests. Her wild instinct had all kicked back in the dark and she just wanted to go out. The cub left behind would cry hard for a while but when it stopped crying, we could not see where this tiny creature was lying in the dark.
While I was trying to pursuade Cathay to come back into the breeding center with a blesbok leg bone in my hand, Tigris had managed to get 327 into the 4 hectare camp. 327, who remarkably went inside this camp that he had never been inside before. I must say 327 has a amazing ability to adapt, after he has been "forced" into the natual area and I regret that we did not do this earlier.
However, no matter what we tried, Cathay just continued pacing. An hour and half had passed and it was completely dark, with just the milky way shining in the sky. Just when I was getting desperate, my guest Joel said, "why don't you turn on the vehicle light to see better?". Suddenly I clicked! I drove the two vehicles into two different positions to light up the areas of the quarantine camp where Cathay was pacing. Seeing the lit camp, Cathay felt unsafe and tried to avoid the light which kept on shining on her. Eventually, she did not have much choice, but to head back into Cage 4 of the Breeding center to avoid light! We picked up her other cub from the grass in a towel and returned it to the den in Cage 2. In her hurry to get to this cub, Cathay left her first cub on the floor of Cage 4 while she was already shut inside her own cage 1. Gates opening and closing again and again. She went back to cage 4 to pick the cub up, only to accidently push it out of the cage from underneath the bars! We hurried go to pick this one up too and returned it to the den for her, after more cage gates opening and closings. But Cathay had now decided to use the den in the outer cage (No.4) so we left her alone...
It was a scary eye-opening experience! We just learn everyday about these smart creatures and I continue trying to get inside their brain but continue to fail! That is why I love cats-big or small, wild or domestic!
April 4: Returning to Normal
After last night's scare, we decided to shut all the three gates of the breeding center where Cathay and cubs are staying so she won't be able to see the passing vehicles or staff. We need to re-condition her to use the inner cage as it provides shelter from sun and cold. She still wanted to go outisde. Sometimes she paced with the cub in her mouth, but later afternoon, she was seen suckling the cubs, calmly, even though still in the outer cage 1. As the demand for her milk increases, she is going to have less and less chance to go out and it is natural she wants to take the demanding cubs with her. But with so many uncertainties, we simply can't afford to let her have her totaly wild ways at the moment to ensure the survival of the cubs. In the wild, out of one little of cubs, only one survive out of two or three, lost to all kinds of natural dangers such as snakes (of which we have plenty at Laohu), porcupines, Jackals, etc). With the need to increase the South China Tigers numbers, we have to do everything within our power to ensure the survival of every cub.
Li Quan
From Laohu Valley
South Africa

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