Leon the dog and his mother, Jeannette Wurms have temporarily adopted two tiger cubs. Wurms is a zookeeper at a safari park in Stuckenbrock, Germany and found the cubs abandoned by their mother and shivering from the cold – they had been rejected by their mother.
While infanticide takes place in the wild, is usually done by males and only in cases where there is extreme food scarcity in tandem with other stressors. However, a mother harming or abandoning her offspring is almost unheard of in the wild. Unfortunately, we are seeing mothers abandon and harm their young more and more often in captivity. According to Julie Woodyer, the director of Zoocheck Canada, “zoos have created different kinds of stressors for the animals because they haven’t evolved to cope in that small environment.” She theorizes that the unfamiliar conditions forced upon wild animals in captivity can be blamed, at least in part, for the unusual and sometimes violent behavior of mothers in captivity. Which brings us back to Leon and Wurms who took in two Bengal tiger cubs, Peach and Pearl.
Wurms says that she and her partner, Leon, have fostered baby big cats before and while cats and dogs may be traditional enemies – Leon loves kittens. Especially very large kittens.
Leon likes to wrestle with Pearl and Peach.
He tires the cubs out.
If he gets too rough, Jeannette steps in to calm everybody down.
But for the most part, Leon is in charge of these two orphans.
And he is making them feel at home.
While this relationship might seem cute, it’s important to remember that these cubs should be in the wild, not in a zookeeper’s livingroom.
Wurms makes a point to remind the public that tigers are not pets. She and Leon have taken on the role of surrogate parents out of necessity – not because they wanted an exotic pet. Wurms hopes to return these cubs to a suitable habitat as soon as possible. But we can’t ignore the fact that the habitat these cubs will return to is not a wild one.
From images of the cubs, it appears that they are White Bengal cubs, another indication that these cubs were the result of irresponsible breeding in captivity. White tigers are incredibly rare in the wild because the white pigmentation they exhibit is actually the result of a genetic mutation. The only way to produce White tiger cubs is to breed two parents with this trait, often this is achieved by inbreeding, and cubs are usually born cross-eyed or with other vision issues. Other health problems that arise within captive-bred white tiger populations include crooked backbone or neck, shortened legs, club foot, organ problems, and reduced fertility. Vascular ring anomaly in the throat and stomach has also been reported among these animals. This severely impairs their ability to swallow and digest food and usually requires an operation for correction and survival. Zoos and other facilities may breed White tigers to draw in crowds, which comes at a great cost to these animals.
Tigers are highly endangered in the wild and there are currently more of them in captivity than the wild – in fact, there are more in U.S. backyards, let alone credited facilities, than in their rightful habitat.
While Leon and his new charges are incredibly cute, we should not lose sight of the fact that these incredible photos are the product of a system that is unnatural and potentially more detrimental to the survival of the species. Zoos can have drastically negative effects on the big cats they house and can prove dangerous to both the animals and the humans that surround them.
All image source: News From The World/YouTube