SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — The Rosamond Gifford Zoo has some new baby animals that are taking the spotlight!

The zoo’s tiger cubs, one male and one female, that were birthed to Amur tigers Zeya and Thimbu on April 29, are now ready to be seen!

Male cub Zuzaan, and female cub Soba (pronounced ‘Zova’), made their debut Tuesday, Sept. 5, as they were introduced by Onondaga County Executive, Ryan McMahon, and the Rosamond Gifford Zoo.

The birth of healthy Amur tiger cubs is an invaluable milestone in the recovery of this rare animal’s population as the Amur tigers population — which are native to the Amur region of northeastern China and Siberia — is estimated to be less than 400, making them one of the rarest species of large cats.

Check out the cubs!

Where do their names come from?

“After our tiger care specialists noticed the male cub had thick stripes, they decided to name him ‘Zuzaan,’ a Mongolian word meaning ‘thick.’ The female cub has a birthmark on the back of her neck that bears uncanny resemblance to the face of a barn owl, so the team named her ‘Soba,’ the Russian word for ‘owl,'” said the Rosamond Gifford Zoo.

The cubs are finally out for the public to see after spending their summer in an off-exhibit den with their mom while they received their vaccines and built up their immunities.

“It is quite a privilege to be able to see not one, but two of these rare tiger cubs at our zoo,” County Executive Ryan McMahon said. “The birth of these special, striped cubs is a big success for our zoo and community, and it’s all thanks to the diligence and expertise of the animal care team at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo.”

Although their population is the dwindling, Amur tigers are one of the largest species on Earth.

“The birth of these tiger cubs is a triumph of conservation, and demonstrates the expertise and commitment of the animal care specialists at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo,” said County Executive Ryan McMahon. “These are some of the rarest big cats on Earth, and it is a privilege to have an institution in our community that is qualified to provide the complex care that this species requires.”

Why were the cubs off-exhibit for so long?

This is Zeya’s first litter of cubs, and the first fathered by male Amur tiger Thimbu, which is why the zoo’s animal care specialists were uncertain how the adults would react towards each other when introduced.

However, the zoo happily announced in June that Zeya immediately bonded with her cubs, and
has been an exceptional mother in the days since their birth.

“When Zeya came to the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, we had high hopes for this day,” said Ted Fox, executive director of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo. “It was always our goal for Zeya to have cubs, but so much had to happen before that was a possibility. This is a crucial moment in the zoo’s conservation mission, and our community has so much to be proud of today. These cubs represent the work of our animal care team in slowly introducing these massive, complex cats. Today is a celebration of Conservation in Action.”

Zeya arrived at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in late 2020 from Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, and when she was born, her mother rejected her and her sister Reka, leaving animal care staff at Beardsley Zoo with no choice but to hand rear the little Amur tiger cubs.

Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Species Survival Plan recommended that she be paired with
Thimbu, who came to the Rosamond Gifford Zoo from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs in 2019.

Zeya was hand-raised, which is why the animal care team was watching the process so closely, as it was uncertain how Zeya would react to cubs. Staff wasn’t sure what to expect, given that Zeya never got to witness what a mother Amur tiger provides for her cubs.

However, unlike Zeya’s mother, Zeya has proven to be a caring and protective mother to her cubs. Zoo goers got to see the cubs on a live camera feed in zoo’s Animal Health Center all summer.

“For Zeya, motherhood was completely instinctual,” tiger care specialist Dan Meates said. “It’s not often that you get to witness an Amur tiger become a mother, and even rarer to observe a big cat that was raised by humans doing such a good job of raising her own cubs.”

Thimbu and Zeya’s new cubs contributing two vital big cats to the precarious Amur tiger global population.