The littlelest big cat at Zoo Miami almost got too little.
The baby Sumatran tiger cub — born Nov. 14 —began its life in perfect health, but the male cub recently began losing weight. Zoo Miami made the call to separate him from his mother, Leeloo, in order to fatten him up with extra feedings.
Zoo officials said the weight loss is likely due to his single cub status. The baby cat isn’t creating enough nursing stimulation in his mother, so her milk production is drying up.
Separating mother and baby is delicate business because stressed out first-time tiger moms have been known to abandon or kill their young if they feel disturbed.
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Thankfully, Leeloo has taken the regular separations in stride. She accepts her chubbier cub back happily each time.
“This is crucial for the normal development of the cub as the mother continues to groom him and socialize him so that he can truly learn how to be a tiger,” Ron Magill, zoo communications director, wrote in a statement released Saturday.
The yet-unnamed cub is the first Sumatran tiger born at the zoo and only the fourth Sumatran tiger born in the U.S. so far this year. His species — native to the Sumatra island in western Indonesia — is the smallest subspecies of tiger. Males reach around 300 pounds, while females stay around 200 pounds. These small tigers are losing territory and population to poaching and the spread of palm oil plantations.