By Claire Voon
Photo Credit: Abby Wood, Smithsonian’s National Zoo
When it comes to swimming, humans aren’t the only ones who have to prove that they can stay afloat. Last week, the pair of Sumatran tiger cubs at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo took a dip in the waters, and passed the swim reliability test, according to a press release from the zoo. Only four months old, Bandar and Sukacita, respectively male and female, had to prove their ability to swim through the shallow region of the moat — about two-and-a-half feet deep — bordering the Great Cats exhibit, where they will be on display after their graduation.
Although the moat does exist to heighten safety for the zoo’s visitors, it also poses a threat for young tigers that might face a fatal situation if they wander into the waters without knowledge of how to navigate them. Zookeepers are especially taking precaution since the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Sumatran tiger as a critically endangered species, with only 400-500 individuals existing in the wild. Bandar and Sukacita, the first litter of tiger cubs born at the zoo in seven years, are two amongst 65 Sumatran tigers living in zoos across North America.
Keepers Dell Guglielmo and Marie Magnuson conducted the test, guiding the cubs as they paddled through the water until they reached dry land. Now that they have received the green light to safely roam the Great Cats’ exhibit, they may now regularly join their four-year-old mother, Damai, in the yard. However, their keepers will continue monitoring them closely to determine on a day-to-day basis how much time they spend in the yard, based on factors such as weather and the pairs’ adjustment to being outdoors.
“Most importantly we have to know that they have that instinct to get back to the shore and pull themselves to water,” Craig Saffoe, curator of the Great Cats exhibit said. “In reality, if a cub came out with mom present and got knocked into the water, mom would probably make a beeline right to them and pull them out of the water. But I’m not willing to bet their lives on that.”