Four tiger cubs born to tigress Uthra at the Arignar Anna Zoological Park in Chennai’s Vandalur were found dead on Monday, just a day after they were born. This is reportedly the first time all cubs born to a tigress has died in the zoo.
Zoo officials who spoke to TNM said that the cubs of the four-year-old tigress had suffered deep injuries to the stomach when she tried to move them to a secluded area in her enclosure, by holding them in her mouth.
The cubs were born to Uthra and Vijay, a six-year-old Bengal tiger. The tigers had mated in July, with Uthra giving birth to the four cubs last Sunday, reported Times of India.
Officials at the zoo had been thrilled by the birth of these cubs as they had aimed at increasing the population of the Bengal tiger in the facility.
"The tiger cubs were only about 10 cm long and because Uthra moved them around with her mouth she injured them," says the Public Relations Officer Shanmugam.
Uthra was rescued from Sathyamangalam forests, when she was a few months old after being abandoned by her mother.
"Since she was brought as a cub to the zoo, she did not know the skills required to handle her children," he claims.
Uthra and her cubs were also kept in a separate enclosure, reported ToI.
Did installation of CCTV cameras distress tigress?
When questioned about allegations that the installation of CCTV cameras by authorities in the enclosure had distressed the animal, the PRO denies it. According to Times of India, a forest officer engaged four officers to put up cameras in the pen. Following this tigress was reportedly agitated, turned violent and showed her anger on the cubs.
"See even in the wild, big cats move their cubs around. Nobody can be blamed for this," argues the PRO.
But a naturalist who works closely with the zoo tells TNM that authorities failed to show insight and proactivity in the matter.
"Yes, it is common for tiger to eat one of their cubs for energy or for them to be moved around in the wild. But it is for the first time that all four cubs have died in an enclosure," he says. "In the wild, these animals have unlimited area to move around and the veterinarians who I spoke to at the zoo are of the opinion that cubs were injured because of the fencing in the enclosure. She may have moved her mouth against them," he adds.
When asked about the installation of CCTVs, he says, "The whole point of the cameras is to protect and study the tiger. If despite this, all the cubs died, it is highly regrettable. Clearly, we need to be more careful and reach out to experts to protect the species. Our question now must be on how to prevent this from happening again," he adds
While a post mortem report is yet to come out, a departmental inquiry has been ordered into the deaths.
Following the death of the cubs, the tiger population at the zoo stands at 26.