Park predicts a record delivery of 100 Siberian tiger cubs in an auspicious year

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 November, 2009, 12:00am

The Year of the Tiger arrives on February 14 - Valentine's Day. Could this be why the Siberian tiger park in Heilongjiang is reporting that its residents are showing evidence of romantic passion?

Liu Dan, chief scientist at the Heilongjiang Amur Tiger Park, told Xinhua that employees were expecting a record of more than 100 cubs as the lunar new year turns.

The park is the world's biggest Siberian tiger breeding facility. Within its 144 hectares of bush and grass in the northern suburbs of Harbin are more than 800 Siberian tigers. China has taken the lead in efforts to conserve the Siberian tiger, which was almost wiped out in the previous century by poachers and hunters.

The mysterious zodiac forces aside, Liu said that favourable weather conditions had definitely helped boost the tigers' reproduction.

Siberian tigers often caught flu and lost the urge to mate when winters were warm and there was little snow, Liu said. The huge amount of snow and the early onset of cold weather this year had made them exceptionally active.

According to a paper by tiger expert Xiao Jinggui from the Qinghuangdao Wild Animal Park in 2003, getting artificially bred Siberian tigers - especially the males - to commit to reproduction is not an easy task.

Xiao observed that after a snowfall, female tigers sauntered into the territories of males and roared and rolled around in front of them.

It is always the females that take the initiative. Most of the males just stand and watch. It is not that they have no interest, but there is a hierarchical system in the community that reserves the reproduction privilege strictly to the top-ranking males.

When a ranking male tiger ambles forward, the female greets him with a 'kiss' on the face and nose. She then lifts her hips and tilts her tail.

In most cases the male ignores her and continues his walk.

The female will then repeat the ritual. Sometimes she needs to do it as many as six times to get her partner animated.

Sexual intercourse lasts only about 10 seconds, and as soon as it is over, the male rests.

The female, however, remains excited and goes after another male. A female sometimes performs the ritual up to 60 times in three days.

Gestation lasts for three to 31/2 months, and usually three or four cubs are born.

But if the little ones ever want to know which male is Dad, Mum may be stuck for an answer.