Wildlife | Animals

Abandoned Tiger Cub Gets Adopted By New Mother - And It's Heartwarming

On July 10, at the Philadelphia Zoo, a female Amur tiger gave birth to a litter of 5 cubs.  Everyone wasn't celebrating though. Two of the cubs were stillborn, a third died in an accident and the fourth died from a medical complication. That left only one female. Zoya.

In spite of being a tiny miracle, Zoya was rejected by her mother, 10-year-old Koosaka. This behavior is somewhat typical of first-time tiger moms.

That's when the Philadelphia Zoo's animal care team stepped in to raise the cub. With only 500 Amur tigers left in the wild, zookeepers weren't about to allow this tiger cub to die like her siblings.

They bottle fed her and kept watch of her around the clock. But with as much care as they provided her something was still missing.

Zoo staff knew she needed siblings to thrive.

“With this single cub, we knew that the best scenario for her was to find an opportunity for her to grow up with other tigers,” said Dr. Andy Baker, COO of the Philadelphia Zoo.

See what they did on the next page to help this cub.

Thanks to a stroke of good luck, a Sumatran tiger at the Oklahoma City Zoo had given birth to a pride of 3 male cubs just one day before Koosaka's delivery. That's when the Philadelphia Zoo decided to send Zoya to Oklahoma City.

Workers waited until the Sumatran mom, Lola, left her three cubs to feed and they rolled the newcomer in with the litter, covering her with their scent.

The hope was that Lola would adopt the little cub.

This ploy had only been successful one time before with tigers, that were of the same species.

“Cross-fostering in tigers is unusual, but with less than 500 Amur tigers in the wild, every cub is important for the species’ survival,” said Dr. Rebecca Snyder, curator of conservation and science with the Oklahoma City Zoo.

While they are different species, Sumatran and Amur tigers look the same as cubs.

Three Sumatran tiger cubs with Amur tiger cub Zoya on scale. Zoya 2nd from left.Gretchen Cole

“Everybody just had their breath held,” said OKC Zoo curator Eddie Witte.

So far so good.

Lola's First Encounter With Zoya

Lola’s first encounter with Zoya was a breathtaking moment we won’t soon forget! Zoya is closest to Lola as she enters the tiger den. See more of our tiger family during today’s Facebook LIVE event at 2 p.m. CT in partnership with Animal Planet and The Association of Zoos and Aquariums as we approach Global Tiger Day on July 29! Philadelphia Zoo

Posted by Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden on Friday, July 28, 2017

Lola nursed Zoya along with her other cubs and they appear to be one big happy family.

“We are very happy that Zoya has integrated well with her new adoptive family,” said Donna Evernham, curator of carnivores and ungulates, Philadelphia Zoo. “She has made an incredible journey in her first two weeks of life and our Philadelphia Zoo team is thrilled to partner with the Oklahoma City Zoo to ensure Zoya’s well-being. With fewer than 500 Amur tigers left in the wild Zoya’s birth is significant to the entire population.”

OKC Zoo and Philadelphia Zoo Cross-Foster Story

The OKC Zoo and Philadelphia Zoo are proud to announce the successful adoption of female Amur tiger cub Zoya into the OKC Zoo’s Sumatran tiger family, which includes mom Lola and her three cubs! Zoya was born to Philadelphia Zoo’s 10-year-old mother Koosaka and 9 year-old Grom on July 10. After Zoya’s littermates did not survive and a lack of maternal behavior from mom Koosaka, Philadelphia Zoo’s animal care team bottle-fed and continuously cared for the cub. Under this care, Zoya was growing well, gaining weight from about 2 pounds at birth to almost 4 pounds at 10 days old. However, the Philadelphia Zoo’s animal care team was concerned about hand-rearing a single cub without social opportunities with either mother or littermates. “With this single cub, we knew that the best scenario for her was to find an opportunity for her to grow up with other tigers,” said Dr. Andy Baker, Philadelphia Zoo’s Chief Operating Officer. The OKC Zoo had a litter of three Sumatran tiger cubs born just one day before the Philadelphia Zoo litter, and their female, six-year-old Lola, was caring well for her cubs. After careful consideration with colleagues involved in the Tiger Species Survival Plan of the The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the OKC Zoo offered to attempt to integrate and cross-foster the Philadelphia Zoo cub with Lola and her cubs. “We are privileged to assist Philadelphia Zoo with this unique situation and understand how crucial this cross-fostering scenario is for Zoya’s well-being,” said Barry Downer, OKC Zoo deputy director/COO. “This is an excellent example of how AZA-accredited zoos collaborate to provide exceptional care and long-term welfare to critically endangered animals.” Staff from the OKC Zoo will continue to monitor progress of the cubs and share updates as they become available. The cubs will continue bonding with Lola in her habitat off public view. In approximately eight weeks, the cubs will have grown enough to begin exploring their outside habitat. For more information about Zoya's journey, please visit https://goo.gl/BGLtm7!

Posted by Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden on Monday, July 24, 2017

It will be a few weeks before they're ready to be seen by the public, but it looks like we have a happy ending to this story.

Zoya seemed to be the perfect name for this little cub- it means "Life".

Sources: Philadelphia Magazine / KFOR / People