Vandalur zoo officials who have been on tenterhooks for a year-and-a-half, were all smiles this week as three cubs were born to nine-year-old Royal Bengal tiger Vijay, and his companion Akansha, a three-year-old white tigress, a few days ago.

The birth marks the first successful cross breeding of the two species of tigers in the city zoo, and, officials say, is the first time such a procedure has been carried out in any of the country’s 200 zoos. The move was also aimed at preventing inbreeding among white tigers, in whom the risk of genetic deformities is high.

Each cub weighs around 1.3 kg, and the three resemble Vijay, with yellow and dark brown stripes.

Closed circuit television cameras have been installed in the enclosure to monitor the cubs and check on the mother’s health and safety. The enclosure has also been covered in wet gunny bags, to reduce heat levels.

“The mother and cubs are all healthy. It will be at least three months before we allow the cubs to be viewed by the public. In about two months, we will be able to determine the gender of the cubs,” said a zoo official.

With the newborns, the zoo now has 11 Royal Bengal tigers and 13 white tigers. 

Vijay, who had been brought from the Indira Gandhi Zoological Park in Vishakhapatnam in 2007 under the animal exchange programme, had been without a partner for five years. As the zoo’s Royal Bengal tigress was old and overweight, officials shifted white tigress twins, Namrata and Akansha to Vijay’s enclosure, but it took nearly a year-and-a-half for the big cats to get acquainted.

Namrata and Akansha themselves, are the result of the first successful breeding of white tigers at the zoo, and were born to Anu and Bhishmar, who arrived at Vandalur on October 1, 2006, from the Delhi zoo,

At first, the tigers were constantly disturbed by the noise made by zoo visitors. “Earlier, their enclosure was near a visitors’ area, and they were constantly disturbed. Later, we shifted them to an isolated part of the zoo. It worked,” said a zoo official. Tigers, officials said, are solitary animals and like to be left alone, especially while breeding.

Small, separate enclosures were set up within the common enclosure and the big cats were left to themselves. It took 104 days for Akansha to deliver her cubs.

While the average lifespan of a tiger is around 20 years in the wild, in zoos, tigers can live for up to 25 years, mainly because of better food and healthcare.

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