Fun and games in the tiger's den

Abandoned by his parents to fend for himself, a Sumatran tiger cub has found a new set of caretakers.

tiger 248.88 (photo credit: Atuart Winer)
tiger 248.88
(photo credit: Atuart Winer)
It's not every day that an animal at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo makes international headlines, but that's just what Sylvester the Sumatran tiger cub has done. After all, who can resist a tiger cub that was rescued from near death and has been raised by humans ever since? Following his dramatic rescue several weeks ago Sylvester gained the spotlight, and now visitors can see him cavorting every day with a keeper for a playmate. When he isn't play fighting with his keepers, Sylvester enjoys attacking the bushes and trees in the enclosure. "He's just like his father," observes Dennis Smith, chief carnivore keeper at the zoo and Sylvester's daily playmate. Sylvester's parents are Vigdor and Hanna, the zoo's resident Sumatran tigers. The pair has produced cubs three times in the past; but on the first two occasions, the cubs didn't survive after Hanna abandoned them at a very young age. It was for this reason that keepers were especially vigilant when Sylvester and his twin brother were born on January 1. The keepers named him "Sylvester," as that is what the secular New Year is called in Israel. Hanna was left undisturbed to take care of her cubs, and for the first 10 days all seemed to be going well. Then one morning Smith found that the mother tiger had again abandoned her cubs. One of the infant tigers had already died and the second was barely breathing. After bundling the unconscious tiger inside his shirt to keep it warm, Smith rushed the cub to the zoo's clinic, where staff was able to resuscitate the infant. Since then, Sylvester has been cared for by staff at the zoo, who bottle-fed him milk day and night. Now, three months later, Sylvester is well enough to leave the clinic and spend much of the day in the tiger enclosure. However, although healthy, he cannot join his parents. The mother-cub bond is now broken, and any attempt to share a cage with his parents would result in disaster. Hanna would ignore his presence, and Vigdor would most likely pounce on him with murderous intent. Instead, Sylvester will be kept separated for the next year or so until he is big enough to join another group of tigers at a different zoo. Sumatran tigers are very rare and are considered a critically endangered species, so Sylvester's survival will be another step toward preserving these big cats. Sylvester, whose attempts at a roar sound more like a bark, is progressing from drinking milk to eating meat and will soon be too strong to handle. Among the steady stream of news reporters who have gone to see him, there are those who discovered that his bite is much worse than his bark. While still only the size of a small dog, his nips and scratches are almost too much to bear, and Smith is careful to always wear long-sleeved sweatshirts when handling the cub. In the meantime, visitors can see Smith playing with Sylvester every day between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m., after which time Sylvester is left to his own devices in a private enclosure away from the public eye.