Experts at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo were shocked on Friday to discover that their rare Sumatran tigress Chana had eaten her two five-week-old cubs.
After giving birth on November 17, Chana seemed to be caring for her youngsters, allowing zookeepers to sit back and watch via closed-circuit video cameras positioned in her den.
Zoo staff had planned on entering the enclosure for the first time on Monday to perform a check-up on the twins, and to give them vaccines, Haaretz reported. But on Friday, they could not find the cubs, and are certain they were eaten by their mother.
There are believed to be fewer than 700 Sumatran tigers left in the world.
Chana gave birth after a successful courtship with a male tiger named Avigdor. It was her fourth litter at the zoo. Two previous sets of cubs died shortly after birth, and following her third litter in 2009, she abandoned her cub. Zookeepers managed to save the cub, and named him Sylvester. When he was a year old, Sylvester was transferred to a zoo in France.
Three tigers were born this time, but one was too frail to survive.
Tigers in both captivity and the wild are known to eat their cubs for a variety of reasons, including stress, lack of food, and a desire to mate.
“This is disappointing and very, very sad,” zoo veterinarian and zoological manager Nili Avnei Magen told Haaretz. “This was a complete surprise. We truly thought we were beyond this and that she was on the right path, and we had already planned the next stage. We will learn the lessons. It could be that this is connected to the behavior of the male.”
The public was to get their first view of the cubs when they were to be released to an open area of the tiger exhibit early next year.
Chana and her brother Oz, who recently sired cubs in New Zealand, were born in the Ramat Gan Safari before being sent out to the other zoos to breed.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.