Longleat welcomed two endangered Amur tiger cubs in June, the first at the Wiltshire safari park for nearly 20 years.
This week male Rusty and female Yuki, who weighed just over a kilogramme when born, took their first steps outside. Initially cautious, the cubs soon overcame their nerves and began exploring their outdoor enclosure, under the watchful gaze of mum Yana.
Native to the far east of Russia, the Amur tiger is the largest of the big cats and can weigh up to 300 kg and measure more than three metres in length. Tigers give birth to very small and vulnerable cubs in comparison to their size who are solely dependent on mum for the first three months, being fully mature at three to four years of age.
Mum Yana and dad Red, both four years old, arrived at Longleat just over a year ago from collections in Sweden and Norway as part of a European breeding programme for the endangered sub-species.
“Going outside for the first time is always a key milestone in the development of any cub and it also marks the start of a whole new chapter in their young lives,” said keeper Caleb Hall.
“Despite all our best efforts, we never really know how they will react until the big day. However Rusty and Yuki took the whole thing in their stride and seemed to relish all the new sights, sounds and smells.
“Their playfighting and stalking games are exactly what they would be doing in the wild and signals the beginning of their independence from mum,” he added.
The Amur tiger population fell as low as just 20–30 animals in the 1930s, due to hunting, but wildlife experts believe the current numbers to be around 540, the highest for more than a century. There were once nine tiger subspecies, but three – the Bali, Caspian and Javan – became extinct during the 20th century.