Caturday felids: Sumatran tiger and clouded leopard cubs

April 30, 2011 • 4:04 am

Okay, your host cannot resist a tiger cub, and several of them opened their eyes for the first time two weeks ago at the San Diego Zoo.  They’re Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae), a subspecies found on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.  They’re the smallest of all the subspecies, and only about 300 remain in the wild.

And about a month ago, three clouded leopard cubs (Neofelis nebulosa) were born at the Nashville Zoo (see here and here for our previous discussions of these cats).  These ones sound exactly like squeak toys.

16 thoughts on “Caturday felids: Sumatran tiger and clouded leopard cubs

  1. Merlyn had to come running to see what all the squeaking was about. All teh kittehs iz adorable.

    I wonder if Brookfield or Lincoln Park have anything like this in the pipeline, so to speak?

  2. Awww, want 🙂

    Is there a reason (from an evolutionary point of view) why male cubs would be favoured over female one? Are they initially weaker? Initially more competitive for mom’s attention?

    1. It could just be the personality of the mother. I’d be hesitant to make any assumptions about sex favoritism being a species trait from this single example, especially since tigers don’t appear to be strongly sexually dimorphic. In humans that kind of favoritism seems (from what I’ve read) to be more culturally determined than anything, with no obvious, compelling evolutionary imperative.

      I’m hardly any kind of tiger expert, so I’ll be happy to be corrected on this. But it seems to me that we ought to be cautious about attributing comparatively small behavioral quirks to evolution without strong evidence that those quirks are genetically-based, shared across the population, and have some clear fitness impact.

      1. Trivers wrote bout sex ratios –
        I am pretty sure research has been done on humans regarding this as well. For humans it depends on your resources or lack thereof. If you are poor, the gamble of favouring males would possibly give you a lot of descendants, while female offspring are more of a ‘banker’ if you will pardon the expression.

        1. Doesn’t that abstract say the exact opposite, that a female offspring in poor condition is likely to outreproduce a male offspring in poor condition, and thus female offspring are a better investment when maternal condition is poor? This would in fact square with the behavior of this mother tiger, who is presumably healthy and well-fed, as the article claims that male offspring are a better reproductive investment in this case.

          However, even assuming that sex preferences are valuable under some circumstances, it still remains to be shown that (a) tigers have evolved under such circumstances, (b) sex-selective behavior is generally displayed by tigers, and (c) this sex-selective behavior has some genetic basis. Only then does it seem reasonable to infer that tigers (or at least Sumatran tigers) have evolved to behave this way.

          I’m not in principle opposed to the idea, mind you, I’m just leery of too much eagerness to rush for simplistic evolutionary psychology any time a human or another animal does something weird.

          1. I understand what you are saying.

            That’s partly asked the question though; perhaps this is just a one-off eccentricity of the mother. But perhaps this is regularly observed in tigers. Does anyone know?

          2. Yes – the Trivers-Willard hypothesis is what I was trying to remember. I was thinking of the case with polyandrous species –
            I am only pointing out that there has been work in this topic for humans as well as other animals. I appreciate that many people are very cautious about applying these things to humans. However I am hardly going out on a limb. A key article for humans was in 1994 by John Martin of Arizona University, in Currant Anthropology Vol. 35, No. 3, Jun., 1994, Changing Sex Ratios. Matt Ridley wrote about that article in New Scientist back in December 1994 “Why Presidents have more sons”.
            More recently there have been studies – lots – in the Journal of Theoretical Biology in particular. It is still a topic for argument though & you are right that we cannot assume from one case, but we can speculate based on what we DO know! I hope this is interesting as I have just spent a hour checking those articles 😉

            1. Thinking about this issue a little more, I think the thing that really bothers me is that it seems like we’re looking at a *specific* creature’s weird actions and leaping right to the possibility that she’s doing it because she’s genetically programmed to, rather than leaving room for her to have her own individual agency and personality. There’s nothing wrong with examining this stuff at a population level and drawing generalizations about average behaviors of a species, but it’s kind of objectifying (and not terribly scientific) to assume that every complex behavior performed by any one individual member of a species is necessarily driven straightforwardly by evolutionary concerns. This is particularly true when that species possesses some level of complex intelligence. People are easily bothered when this is done in the case of humans, but are often all too willing to think of non-human animals as interchangeable, mindless Darwin-robots, and to fail to grant them credit for individuality. So I think that’s what I’m really objecting to here.

              1. I see exactly what you mean, but I would ask more generally if we do not extrapolate & hypothesize even on a sample of one, can we progress? We need heuristics, as everything in our experience as individuals is based on encountering people, situations, things etc & drawing general rules from them – even if they are later proven wrong. [You can tell I am not a scientist!]

                When we consider the intelligence of other animals then we have to consider the ‘idea’ of free will going with that intelligence. Though whether free will is real or not is another matter of course!

                Oops -I have gone way off the topic of cute cubs!

              2. Dominic, I guess we are nested too deeply for me to be allowed to “reply” to your post, so I have to reply to my own instead.

                In any case, I think you are right. The real point here is, “Aww, wookit da adowwabwe baby tigers.” 🙂

  3. I saw a thing on TV about hand raising clouded leopard cubs. Apparently this has gone on for several generations. The guy went out the the little shed where the mother and cubs were and removed the cubs without any show of concern on the part of the mother.

    I wonder what effect generations of hand raising has had.

  4. Watching the Malayan cubs video, I couldn’t help thinking, bleagh! I helped my mother hand-raise some kittens years ago and, after bottle-feeding, came the wiping of backsides with a damp cloth to get things… moving. I suppose, at that age, it’d be little more than somewhat processed and aged milk, but still… Bleagh!

    1. The first time my family ended up raising a very young kitten we didn’t know about the towel thing. This resulted in a few rather unpleasant messes. Fortunately, we were keeping her locked in a bathroom for the first few days we had her, so cleaning up all the poop smeared absolutely *everywhere* was easier than it might have been…

  5. Is it bad of me that I get insanely jealous of people who get to work with these amazing creatures? Yes, I want to cuddle with a tiger cub. I want to smell it’s baby breath and kiss-a-belleh. So unfair.

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