When Georgia, a white Siberian tiger, didn’t leave her den Thursday night, her caretakers knew something wasn’t right.
“When a tiger doesn’t come out of the den to eat or something, we know there’s something wrong,” said C.W. Wathen, founder and general manager of the Chestatee Wildlife Preserve in Dahlonega.
So he turned on the camera in Georgia’s den and saw something he didn’t expect — four tiny tiger cubs.
The parents, Georgia and Magnum, were getting older so Wathen said it was a surprise to find the cubs.
“Every day is a new day here,” Wathen said. “You never know what the next day will bring. That’s what keeps it exciting.”
The zoo is well known for its collection of big cats and two zedonks — half zebra, half donkey.
Wathen said 10 Siberian tigers are on the preserve.
The World Wildlife Fund lists the tiger as one of the 10 most endangered species, saying fewer than 3,200 live in the wild. Some tigers are cream or white instead of orange, due to a recessive gene for this coloration. These “white” tigers are rarely found in the wild, the WWF website said.
“What makes them extremely rare is that white mothers don’t make good mothers,” Wathen said.
Most of the time tigers will have only two to three cubs at once; having four is unusual.
For whatever reason, the mothers don’t always nurse or take care of their young.
When Wathen noticed Georgia wasn’t going to nurse the cubs, he decided it was best to remove them from the den.
“It’s just a miracle that all four are still living,” Wathen said.
The cubs are being bottle fed around the clock and can’t open their eyes yet. Wathen said it’s just like having four new babies at home.
He said all of the cubs are taking to the bottle with ease and seem healthy. The cubs weigh less than 3 pounds each.
“They’ll grow up to be 700 to 800 pounds,” he said. “It’s amazing that something so small could grow up to be so big and powerful,” Wathen said.
Wathen said no decision has been made on what to do with the tigers when they grow up. He said some might be donated to zoos, but he said he plans to keep the rest.
There are a lot of financial considerations with big cats. The tigers each will eat 20 to 40 pounds of meat a day and will require building a new facility. But Wathen said he’s not worried about it.
“We always find a way,” Wathen said. “Just like people with a large family, we’ll take care of ‘em.”