Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has an unusual task at hand — giving Tamil names to the four white tiger cubs who were born at Vandalur zoo on October 29 last year.

Zoo officials had sent a request to the effect to chief minister’s office, but are yet to get a response.

The nine-year-old Anu, the oldest tigress at the zoo, gave birth to four cubs on October 29, 2012. With the new-borns, the zoo currently has 21 tigers — 13 of them being white tigers. The gestation period of tigers is around 105 days. “Four months have passed since the cubs were born. It is time they are named since wild species, especially big cats respond when called by a name,” said a zoo official

The idea to give Tamil names to the cubs was mooted by zoo officials in 2010. Instead of names such as Arumugam and Geetha (as the panther and bison at the zoo are called), zoo officials wanted the cubs to be named after ancient Tamil scholars.

When the DMK government was in power, former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi had named a male and two female white tiger cubs Sembian, Indra and Valli respectively in September 2010. Ms. Jayalalithaa also gave two white tiger cubs and a lion cub the names Rama, Chandra and Veera respectively in 2011. In October 2012, the three female lion cubs at Vandalur zoo were named Kala, Maya and Nila. “It is only mammals that are given names as birds and reptiles do not respond,” said another zoo official.

The practice of addressing animals by names also helps caretakers bond with them. The names are usually given by caretakers or forest rangers. Nevertheless, there are occasions when animals, especially those belonging to endangered species such as white tigers, are given names by the zoo director or senior forest officers. For example, when Anu, the eldest female tigress at the zoo, gave birth to her first cub in March 2009, the then zoo director P.L. Anathaswamy, named one of the two cubs after his daughter, Akansha.

There are also instances of animals being named after their caretakers. The story of how the panther Arumugam got his name is a classic instance. In 2001, the animal had entered the zoo premises from the Vandalur reserve forest and the zoo was closed for more than 45 days to facilitate the search for it. After many attempts, the panther was finally trapped and it was named after the animal keeper, Arumugam, who first noticed the panther in the trap cage. Referring to the advantages of the cubs being named by the Chief Minister, an official said the practice would help create more awareness of the endangered species.

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