Satu, the first and only Sumatran tiger cub born at Zoo Miami, weighed just 2 pounds when he arrived into the world one year ago this month.
The little big cat was the only cub born to first-time tiger mom Leeloo, imperiling his chances of survival.
Normally, Sumatran tigers — a critically endangered sub-species from Indonesia — give birth to a litter of between two and four cubs, said Ron Magill, a spokesman for Zoo Miami.
“With one cub in the litter, it’s not enough to stimulate the mother to produce enough milk,” Magill said.
So zookeepers had to carefully bottle feed Satu by hand and then quickly return him to his mother. “It was a precarious situation,” Magill said. “She was very distressed when we separated them.”
But each time, as keepers anxiously watched, Leeloo accepted her cub back.
The last thing we want is a hand-raised animal that doesn’t know how to be a tiger.
Ron Magill, Zoo Miami.
“The last thing we want is a hand-raised animal that doesn’t know how to be a tiger,” Magill. “He turned out to be a little spitfire.”
Now, the young beast tips the scales at well over 100 pounds, as he celebrated his first birthday Thursday. “Happy birthday, tiger,” one little girl said outside his enclosure, which was festooned with decorations.
Satu is still growing: Adult males can weigh up to 300 pounds. Sumatrans are the smallest of the world’s six remaining tiger sub-species. Their natural jungle habitat on the Indonesian island of Sumatra has been devastated to make room for palm oil plantations. And their bones are prized for traditional medicines, meaning poachers seek them out.
“It’s led to the tremendous demise of these animals,” Magill said.
There are fewer than 500 Sumatran tigers left in the wild, and between 70 and 80 in captivity in the United States. Satu will be drafted to help repopulate their ranks when he reaches sexual maturity in the next two to three years. A computer program will match him with a potential mate who is not related to him. That’s to ensure the captive population maintains genetic diversity and avoids congenital defects.
Said Magill: “It’s kind of like Tinder for tigers.”