The Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society has announced that Berapi Api, a ten-year-old Malayan tiger who mothered three male cubs at the Zoo in 2011, is expected to give birth within the next six weeks. This will be her fourth litter, and the second litter sired by Keemasan Mata, who returned to the Zoo in January. This pregnancy is significant because the Malayan tiger is a critically endangered species.
The two tigers were paired in February through a breeding recommendation made by the Tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP) of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The two tigers were separated after breeding, since tigers are solitary in the wild. Mata will remain on exhibit at the Palm Beach Zoo.
Berapi has been exhibiting signs of pregnancy, including steady weight gain and a growing belly that has shown movement in the past week. A tiger’s gestational period is typically 93-110 days, with 100 days being the average.
“We are cautiously optimistic since we have done the best we can in preparing for this,” said Jan Steele, General Curator for the Zoo. “Every pregnancy comes with risk, and we are giving Berapi space to allow her to have the safest birthing environment possible.”
Zoo officials halted the construction of the Henry and Charlotte Kimelman Tiger Falls Habitat last month to ensure Berapi is not disturbed by loud noises. The new habitat will open in the fall, and will double the size of the current tiger habitat. Construction will resume a minimum of one month after the tiger cubs are born.
Berapi has preferred to remain in the tiger night house, only venturing out in the cooler evening hours. Zookeepers are following a normal routine with the expectant mother, and are making a point not to hover unnecessarily. Mother tigers have been known to kill their cubs if they feel threatened, and Berapi abandoned the first two of her three litters. A remote camera inside the night house allows zookeepers to monitor the pregnant tiger.
Berapi was born on December 23, 2004, and weighs 220 pounds. Mata was born on June 4, 2005, and weighs 340 pounds.
Malayan tiger births are extremely rare, with only one other AZA zoo having Malayan tiger cub births this year. Zoo officials said each tiger birth is critical to help preserve the species from extinction, as scientists estimate fewer than 500 Malayan tigers exist in the wild. Every tiger cub born will contribute to the genetic diversity of the Malayan tiger population and species conservation efforts.
Malayan tigers are among the smallest of the tiger species, and are named after the Malay Peninsula where they are found. Initially, decline in tiger numbers was primarily because of a tremendous loss of habitat. More recently, the greater threat has been from poaching for its body parts, persecution by angry villagers, and starvation as their prey is over-harvested.