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November 21, 2023

Three Amur Tiger Cubs Born

Their births are important for the survival of this critically endangered big cat

Three critically endangered Amur (pronounced Ah-MOOR) tiger cubs were born at the Saint Louis Zoo on Nov. 13, 2023. The cubs are the first successful tiger births at the Zoo in more than 10 years and are a significant contribution to the population of Amur tigers in North American zoos.

See below for updates!

Feb. 2, 2024 Update

Amur tiger triplets Darya, Ussuri and Sungari are now 2-½-months old and just look at how they’ve grown! Here’s what’s been going on in their world and some milestones they’ve reached.

🐾 Discovering new things — The active and inquisitive tigers are interested in all the new things provided by the Animal Care team. After one of the first snows, the care team scooped up some of the cold stuff and brought it inside for the cubs to investigate. They weren’t sure what to think of it at first but soon were brave enough to check it out. Herbs like rosemary are hidden inside a tube as a new scent for them to sniff out.

🩺 First checkups — The cubs got their first set of vaccinations at the beginning of January and received a thorough checkup by the Veterinary team. The cubs each weighed between about 13 and 16 pounds and are doing very well.

🐅 First taste of meat — Ussuri and Darya were the first to start eating a meat “slurry” provided by the Animal Care team. After watching his brother and sister enjoy this new food, Sungari soon followed. This is a key milestone for their growth that’s also fundamental to building a positive relationship with the care team. All three now eagerly eat their “big kids” meat diet daily and are still nursing too.

🤗 Being rambunctious — The cubs are playing and wrestling together, which is important for the cats’ development and teaches skills they’ll need when they grow up. Their personalities are starting to develop. Darya is vocal and a momma’s girl, Ussuri is curious and playful, and Sungari is a big boy who likes his sleep.

🐯 Learning the family greeting — “Chuffing” is a friendly greeting vocalization that the cubs and their mother Reka make to each other to show affection. It’s a breathy, whispery kind of rumble. The cubs are starting to chuff to the Animal Care team, which is the highest of compliments!

Reka and the cubs are indoors at Big Cat Country for the next few months to allow time for the cubs to grow large enough to safely navigate their outdoor habitat. The father Maxim can be seen by Zoo guests in his habitat at Big Cat Country.

Dec. 22, 2023

And Their Names Are ...

Tiger cubs names

Roar, rawr, growl, mew, meow – sounds of the holiday season at Big Cat Country! Presenting the Amur tiger family, Reka, Maxim and their 5-week-old triplets: Sungari (male), Ussuri (male) and Darya (female).

Sungari (soong-GUH-ree) and Ussuri (oo-SOOR-ee) are named after important tributaries of the Amur River in Russia. Darya (Dar-EE-yuh) is named after the “Amu Darya," a river in central Asia that flows from the Aral Sea south to Afghanistan.

A river theme was chosen for the cubs’ names since mom’s name, “Reka,” means river. The Amur River flows through the middle of the important remaining habitat for Amur tigers.

The cubs started opening their eyes around 12 days old and they started learning to walk around 4 weeks. They are getting quite mobile and curious exploring their environment.

Amur tiger female
Female tiger cub Darya. Dec. 12, 2023 photo by Jackie Voelkel, Saint Louis Zoo
Male tiger cub Ussuri
Male tiger cub Ussuri. Dec. 15, 2023 photo by Jackie Voelkel, Saint Louis Zoo
Amur tiger Sungari
Amur tiger cub Sungari. Dec. 14, 2023 photo by Jackie Voelkel, Saint Louis Zoo

Nov. 21, 2023

Three critically endangered Amur (pronounced Ah-MOOR) tiger cubs were born at the Saint Louis Zoo on Nov. 13, 2023. The cubs are the first successful tiger births at the Zoo in more than 10 years and are a significant contribution to the population of Amur tigers in North American zoos. The largest of wild cats, this species is considered one of the most endangered big cats in the world

The baby tigers’ parents are mother Reka (pronounced REE-kuh), age 5, and father Maxim, age 11. Mother and cubs are doing well and will remain in their private, quiet and calm maternity den inside Big Cat Country for the next few months to allow time for the cubs to grow large enough to safely navigate their outdoor habitat. Maxim can be seen by Zoo guests in his habitat at Big Cat Country.

The first few months of life are critical for newborn tigers. The Animal Care team is monitoring the tigers via camera and has observed Reka being an attentive mom, cleaning, feeding the cubs and keeping them warm. In the coming weeks, the cubs will receive their first well-baby check by the Zoo’s Veterinary Care team. Since Reka is keeping them close for the time being, that will be the first chance for the care team to determine the sex of each cub. The Zoo will wait until after the exam to name the cubs.

“The Animal Care Team has worked hard to support Reka throughout this journey, from introductions to Maxim to the birth of the cubs. It is incredibly rewarding to see her be such a gentle and attentive mom,” said Julie Hartell-DeNardo, Kevin Beckmann Curator of Carnivores, Saint Louis Zoo. "One of my favorite things about working here is seeing the team effort across the Zoo on behalf of the animals. This includes careful observations of the tigers by the Animal Care team, hormonal analysis by our Research Department, the Veterinary Care team’s coordination of ultrasound training to monitor the pregnancy and cubs’ development, the Animal Nutrition team who ensures Reka and the babies’ dietary needs are met and even our Facilities Management team helps to keep things working and building things to improve our ability to create overall exceptional well-being for our animals,” said Hartell-DeNardo.

Species Survival Plan

Reka was born at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo and moved to the Saint Louis Zoo in 2021. Maxim was born at Peoria Zoo in Illinois and moved to the Saint Louis Zoo from Indianapolis Zoo in 2022. The two were paired on a breeding recommendation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Amur Tiger Species Survival Plan, a program responsible for maintaining a healthy population of Amur tigers in North American zoos.

Fewer Than 500 Left in the Wild

It is estimated there are less than 500 Amur tigers left in the wild, with most living in the Russian Far East. They face high risk of extinction in the wild due to habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation, poaching, and human-wildlife conflict.

These cats once lived throughout much of Siberia and surrounding areas, and for this reason they were often called Siberian tigers. Today, with their reduced range, they are no longer found in Siberia or called by that name. Their "new" name comes from the Amur River, which flows through the middle of their current, smaller range in Russia.

More Information

The Zoo will continue to provide updates on the cubs at stlzoo.org/TigerCubs and on social media when possible: facebook.com/stlzoo, X (twitter.com/stlzoo), instagram.com/stlzoo, and youtube.com/stlzootube.

About the Saint Louis Zoo

Home to over 16,000 animals, representing nearly 500 species, the Saint Louis Zoo is recognized worldwide for its innovative approaches to animal care and management, wildlife conservation, research, and education. One of the few free zoos in the nation, the Saint Louis Zoo is the most-visited attraction in the region. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Saint Louis Zoo is part of an elite group of institutions that meet the highest standards in animal care as well as provide fun, safe and educational family experiences. The Saint Louis Zoo and the other AZA-accredited institutions collectively dedicate millions of dollars annually to support scientific research, conservation and education programs. For more information, visit stlzoo.org.

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Amur tiger cubs
Amur tiger mother Reka with her 6-day-old cubs in maternity den. Credit Kelsey Thompson, Saint Louis Zoo
Amur tiger cubs
Amur tiger mother Reka with her 1-day-old cubs. Photo by Jackie Voelkel/Saint Louis Zoo