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3 playful tiger cubs make debut at Hogle Zoo

Three rambunctious tiger cubs have made their grand public entrance at Hogle Zoo.

The male Amur tiger cubs were born in the zoo's Asian Highlands to parents Basha and Kazek on June 2 and are part of a critically endangered species.

The cubs have been out of visitors' view while they were getting stronger and bonding with their mother, Basha, according to zoo spokeswoman Holly Braithwaite. They went on public display for the first time on Tuesday.

Braithwaite said Basha has quite a strong personality.

"They've adopted that same kind of personality," she said. "They're very playful. They're a bunch of boys."

This gives Hogle Zoo five Amur tigers on display, though because the cubs are male, they aren't likely to remain at the zoo permanently.

"They will typically go to other zoos," Braithwaite said.

But she stressed that they will be at the zoo for some months to come as they grow up and learn to live on their own.

The three cubs, weighing between 24 and 27 pounds, aren't named yet. That's a job the Hogle Zoo's animal-care staff will address soon.

For the past couple of months, the tiger brothers have become increasingly active, and Basha has kept busy nursing and caring for her three playful cubs.

Although this is her first litter, she is proving to be an excellent mother.

"With first-time moms, we prepare ourselves to deal with the unknown. But Basha took on the three cubs like she was a natural; she was an extremely caring, protective, great mom from day one," said Hogle Zoo feline keeper Jill VanMilligen.

She added, "Basha was one of three cubs born at Hogle Zoo in 2003, and now, watching her become a mom herself is incredible."

This is the first time that the cubs' father, Kazek, who arrived at Hogle Zoo in 2006 from the Buffalo Zoo, has sired a litter.

The zoo's Amur tigers, formerly known as Siberian tigers, are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Tiger Species Survival Plan.

The plan aims to maintain a genetically healthy population of tigers in North American zoos. There are approximately 130 Amur tigers in association-accredited zoos and about 500 living in small populations of far eastern Russia and northeastern China.

Loss of habitat due to logging activities, human encroachment and poaching is the main threat to their survival in the wild.

Zoo tigers are extremely important ambassadors for their counterparts in the wild. In fact, Braithwaite said, when these cubs were born in June, Hogle Zoo was the only accredited institution this year to effectively breed and have successful rearing by the mother.

According to Kimberly Davidson, Hogle Zoo assistant director of programs, "this birth is a testament not only to Hogle Zoo's excellence in animal care but also our commitment to preserving Amur tigers."

In zoos, visitors can connect with big cats like Amur tigers and become inspired to learn about them and help preserve their future in the wild.