New white tiger cubs born at Michigan City's Washington Park Zoo


The zoo in Michigan City is sporting white tiger cubs born less than two weeks ago.

To avoid putting more stress on the mother, the zoo will soon install a video camerato give visitors a glimpse of the over 300 pound female cat nursing and cleaning her cubs on a screen outside the tiger house where they're kept.

"As a first time mom, she's excellent. She's tremendous," said Johnny Martinez, director of Washington Park Zoo.

Both ''Zusha'' and the father, Zeus, were brought to the zoo in 2010 from Wisconsinand Alabama just weeks after they were born.

The tigers were housed together to prepare them for mating, and whenZusha reached maturity, she had an implant removed that kept her sterile.

It wasn't long before she became pregnant and delivered the litter 103 days afterconceiving," said Martinez.''We raised them side by side.''

Because male tigers sometimes prey upon their young, Zeus is nowin a separate holding area in the same building and after dark is moved outsideinto a cage to be on display.

''It's beautiful,'' said Ayako Harper, who revealed it was her first timeseeing a white tiger.

The St. John woman came to the zoo with her husband, Shawn, and theirdaughters, Marissa, 11, and Nicole, 9.

''I have a friend who loves white tigers,'' said Marissa, who had seen white tigers on TV but never in person.

Zusha and her cubs are kept indoors but could begin seeing daylight in six months whenthe baby cats start becoming independent of their mother.

Elizabeth Emerick, the zoo curator, was proud of Zusha for acting on her instincts to nurture her young, something her mother failed to do.

As a result, Emerick after Zusha arrived at the zoo and took the female cat to her home in La Porte at night for about three months to continue around the clock feedings.

''It's great to see her turn out to be such a good parent,'' said Emerick.

Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend has the only other white tiger in the state, but Ivory is18 years old and with her nearing life expectancy, there are no plans to replace her.

''We'll become the only zoo in Indiana with white tigers,'' said Martinez, who introducedwhite tigers to that zoo when he was the director there years ago.

All tigers are classified as endangered.

The white tigers can grow to more than 600 pounds and are second to the Siberian Tiger as the largest of the cat family.

Most tigers are native to India where breeding of white ones captured in the wild began in 1957 for the rich and powerful to showcase.

''They are still being found in the wild but not that frequently,'' said Martinez.

Within a year, Martinez said one of the cubs will be sent to Wisconsin where his mother came from under an agreement that allowed the Washington Park Zoo to acquire Zusha.

The other cub will also be moved to a facility with a need for a white tiger, but thatdestination has not been decided.

Zusha and Zeus will be allowed to mate again at the zoo.

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