Topeka Zoo's Sumatran Tiger About To Give Birth

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TOPEKA, Kansas (WIBW) -- Keepers at the Topeka Zoo are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Sumatran tiger cub triplets, who will be born any day now.

The excitement goes well beyond just the pitter-patter of little paws and cute, cuddly faces.

Keepers have been waiting for tiger babies for a while. They introduced Jingga to Rojo a year ago, and well, nature takes its course.

"We were like, 'Is she pregnant, is she pregnant?' We've been waiting!" Animal Care Supervisor Shanna Simpson said.

After watching carefully, they thought she may be pregnant. Keepers trained her to go into a "squeeze" cage for an ultrasound. That in and of itself was amazing for the staff.

"The fact that we're training a dangerous animal to do ultrasounds was just amazing in the zoo field."

Rojo and Jingga are now spending a little bit of time apart right now. Jingga likes to spend most of her time indoors. The zookeepers say Rojo and Jingga were the perfect match, and finally after a year and a half, the big announcement -- Three baby cubs were on the way.

"When we actually did see the cubs it was so exciting!"

The gestational period for Sumatran tigers is around 120 days, according to Zoo Veterinarian "Doc" Shirley Llizo.

Jingga is about to give birth any day now. Simpson said the cubs would have a better chance of coming out healthier if they were born on or after Thursday, May 1.

Keepers and Doc are monitoring Jingga around the clock. She's allowed to go outside in the morning, but after noon she is limited to indoors, in case she gives birth during the day. An outdoor birth would not be ideal, because there are many dangers outside for newborn cubs. Simpson said tigers typically give birth at night, so they have begun nightly checks as well. When a tiger is about to give birth, they typically won't eat, they'll pant, lay down and groom themselves more. Weekly ultrasounds continue, the latest being on Thursday morning, to check on the three little heartbeats.

"We can't detect the third one, we are concerned, we'd like to see it but it is difficult to locate since she is getting so big," Doc said. Not being able to see the heartbeat doesn't necessarily mean it's not there, she added.

Jingga's pregnancy and the birth will be the first at the Topeka Zoo since the 1970's when Bengal tigers were born.

"We feel very ready and very capable that we have a plan and she's just doing amazing," Simpson said.

Because this is a first for both the staff and Jingga, no one really knows what will happen. The staff is focused on keeping Jingga comfortable to ensure a successful birth.

"Typically if a female feels threatened in any way or stressed, they can kill the cubs, hurt the cubs, reject the cubs."

Simpson said the best plan is to sit back and observe, and let Jingga's instincts take over. The worst case scenario would be to intervene.

"She really likes the staff and the keepers so we hope she will take care of the cubs like she's supposed to," Doc said.

"She just develops a relationship with us, it's so exciting," Simpson said. "Not only for us here, I mean how many zoos have tiger babies? It is huge that we're reproducing our tigers. That just shows you our level of animal care here at our zoo."

It's also huge for the tiger population worldwide.

"Their species, especially Sumatrans, are not doing very well in the wild. So I hope this brings awareness, and people in Topeka are going to see her and they're going to want to make a change, and ultimately help tigers."

The cubs will not be able to go outside for at least three months, depending on how they develop.

Simpson said the public should be able to see them by late July.