By Ryan McPhail
Ingham County Chronicle staff writer
On Sept. 13, 2011, four Amur tiger cubs were born at Potter Park Zoo, but only three survived: Kira, Savelii and Ameliya
“Its not unusual to lose one in a litter that size,” said Zookeeper Annie Marcum.
Shortly after the cubs were born, they became sick with a pneumonia-like lung disease and stopped nursing from their mother. When that happened, the zoo was forced raise the tigers by hand.
The addition of three animals as well as being forced to hand raise the cubs was financially demanding for the zoo and more money was required to support the tigers.
“Getting them through the first week or two was a challenge,” said Marcum.
Marcum said the cubs were fed 5 times a day, twice during the night which required a zookeeper to come in after hours to feed the cubs.
Money was required for antibiotic drugs to heal the tigers as well as overtime pay for the zookeepers to come in after hours for nightly feedings.
Potter Park Zoo is funded by a millage that is paid for by a property tax of those who live in Ingham County, but the zoo also receives money from donations and admission fees.
Marcum said a lot of the money to support the cubs was raised by donations to the zoo primarily from viewers of the Potter Park Cub Cam.
“They watched the tigers and wanted to help,” said Marcum.
The Potter Park Cub Cam is a 24-hour, live-streaming camera that is set up in the tiger cub’s exhibit that streams online allowing people who have Internet access to watch the cubs.
“Most fundraising is coming from the Cub Cam,” said Zookeeper Amy Pierce.
On Saturday Feb. 3, 2012, Meredith Saunders, a senior at Michigan State University, saw the tiger cubs for the first time since she began watching the Cub Cam a couple of months ago with her nieces.
“It’s so much better watching them in person. They are so cute,” said Saunders.
In the winter, admission is free at Potter Park Zoo. Marcum said because of this the zoo has not had a huge monetary change because of the tiger cubs, but the zoo is anticipating an increase come spring.
“There should be a large crowd. They are a big attraction,” said Pierce.
Saunders said that she is looking forward to taking her nieces to see the tiger cubs in the spring and that having to pay will not affect her decision.
“I want to bring my nieces and I am excited to come back and see them,” said Saunders.
Carolyn Schulte, a zookeeper, said, “The cubs are valuable in more than one way; monetary for the zoo and valuable for the species.”
The cubs are fully recovered and, as they continue to grow, there is a continuing demand to support the cubs. They have transitioned to an all meat diet, eating about five pounds of meat six days a week as they continue to receive care and training from the zoo and zookeepers.
Come spring, the tiger cubs will begin their transition from their current exhibit to the big cat outdoor exhibit. The cubs will still be viewable on exhibit at the zoo, but they won’t be on webcam all the time.
Pierce, who removed the tigers from their mother, said seeing how critical they were and seeing them come around and knowing they are going to be ok has been her favorite memory with the cubs.