The baby boom at Utah's Hogle Zoo continued Tuesday as the park's staff placed three tiny tiger cubs on public display.
The endangered Amur tigers, all males, were born June 2 at the zoo. They are part of a youthful menagerie that now includes a baby giraffe, infant meerkats, black-footed cat kittens, newborn snow leopards and a 251-pound elephant, who was born Aug. 10 and is the youngest pachyderm in the United States.
The baby elephant won't be on display for a few more weeks. But the park's nonprofit board got a preview of the calf following its Monday afternoon meeting, following a slide-show presentation that included video of the calf's birth.
The birth went so well, said zoo director Craig Dinsmore, that there is already talk of impregnating the calf's mother, Christy, again -- in hopes of fostering an understanding in the calf of how to be a good mother and pack member. Any new calves, though, are likely years away, Dinsmore said.
In the meantime, "We've been moving very cautiously," Dinsmore said of the decision to delay the calf's public debut. Elephant calves have a notoriously high rate of infant mortality -- including instances in which older elephants accidentally kill their young while trying to protect them.
"But our confidence grows with each day," Dinsmore said.
Indeed, the zoo's staff has gone ahead with a plan to let zoo patrons vote on a name for the baby elephant. Voters get to choose from five names: Abeni, Apara, Khari, Aisha and Zuri.
Caution also prevailed in keeping the tiger cubs off display for the first three months of their lives. It's also dictated a move for father Kazek, who is being kept in a smaller enclosure on the other side of the Asian Highlands exhibit and won't ever meet the cubs he sired.
"Dad's done his job," said feline keeper Stephanie Natt. "One of the dangers in the wild is that older male cats view younger males as competition," necessitating the separation of the father from the sons.
Nett noted that tigers are a solitary species anyway, and generally only socialize in order to mate. The cubs, which will grow as large as 650 pounds each, will remain with their mother, Basha, at Hogle for a year or two. Then they will likely be moved to other zoos as part of the international Species Survival Plan, intended to revive a breed that numbers less than 650 worldwide.
Hogle is the only zoo this year to breed Amur tigers and have successful rearing by the mother, zoo staff said. Basha is herself a product of Hogle's captive breeding program, having been born in Utah in 2003.
Natt said she feels like a proud aunt having watched Basha progress through the circle of life. "She's all grown up now," she said.
Hogle Zoo visitors are being asked to vote for a name for the park's new baby elephant. The five names under consideration are of Yoruba, Swahili and Arabic origins:
Abeni (ah-beh-NEE): "We asked for her, and behold, she is ours"
Apara (ah-PAH-rah): "One who comes and goes."
Khari (CAYR-ee): "Queenly, joyful song, born to bring joy"
Aisha (EYE-ee-shuh): "She is life"
Zuri (ZOO-ree): "Adorable, beautiful"
Sources: Hogle Zoo, www.babynamesworld.com