On the eve of International Tiger Day, we’re delighted to share that an ultrasound has confirmed that Auckland Zoo’s young female Sumatran tiger Zayana (4) is now six-weeks pregnant!

With a gestation period of 100-108 days for this Critically Endangered big cat species, Zayana is now a little under halfway through her pregnancy. All going well, she would give birth in September, however it wouldn’t be until closer to Christmas before she would bring her cub(s) out into the South East Asia Jungle Track’s lowlands habitat. Dad-to-be is five-year-old male Ramah, with whom Zayana has had two mating introductions since May.

It is thanks to an outstanding training programme, started by Zayana’s former keepers at Topeka Zoo & Conservation Centre (Kansas, USA) and progressed by our Carnivore team, that an ultrasound procedure (the only way to 100% confirm a tiger pregnancy) has been so skilfully and successfully achieved.

“It’s so cool that we can do a procedure like this on Zayana that’s just part of her training sessions and doesn’t require her having to undergo a general anaesthetic, which is not advisable for pregnant animals,” says Carnivore deputy team leader, Nick Parashchak.  

“Because of the relationships we’ve all built with her, Zayana is really trusting of us. She enjoys and is very cooperative and focused during training where she has choice about participating and is rewarded with treats like meat and pet milk - which she loves. To prep her for the ultrasound, we started by desensitising her to having her belly touched, then built things up slowly from there, applying the gel that helps the soundwaves to be picked up, and then got her used to the touch and movement of the ultrasound probe.

“There was no guarantee we’d get a result, especially as we were working within a limited space and could only get to one side of her belly – as our video shows. But with Zayana lying belly down as needed on the training chute ledge - with the help of our expert vet, Dr An Pas, and our own team’s skills, our educated guess with the probe on Tuesday clearly proved spot on!”

While super excited about the pregnancy themselves, Nick and the team caution that Zayana still has to achieve carrying to term, have no birthing difficulties, and then rise to challenge and all the demands that come with being a first-time mum.

“Research shows that there are risks associated with litter sizes. For example, when there’s just one cub born, there’s a higher chance of mismothering as opposed to being more invested in caring for multiple cubs. We won’t know how many cubs Zayana will have until she gives birth, but for now we’re doing everything we can to support her to have the best possible pregnancy,” explains Nick.

This includes giving Zayana folate and Vitamin-B supplements.

“We decided to assume she was pregnant a few weeks back when we suspected, due to some of her behaviours, that she wasn’t looking to come back into oestrus, so we got her started on these important supplements early.


Ultrasound reveals ultra good news for tiger Zayana

“Again, our training programme, which we continue to develop as it’s such a big part of how we ensure Zayana and Ramah’s best health and wellbeing, has really helped, as we’ve been able to draw bloods from Zayana’s tail to test and monitor her folate and Vitamin B levels. We have our colleagues at Topeka to thank for this too, as it’s something they implemented, and we’ve been able to continue,” says Nick.

A lot more relaxed, spending more time sleeping and resting and choosing not to go outside as much as she normally would, and being exceptionally chilled and chatty towards her carers, is how Nick and team leader Lauren describe Zayana at the moment.

“It’s been a very exciting journey with Zayana and Ramah since they arrived from the USA last November. For all of us, except for Lauren, this is our first time working with a pair of breeding tigers.

“As a team, we’re really proud of how we’ve all come together and supported each other through all the intensive research, planning, groundwork, training development and decision making. And we haven’t done it alone. We have a really supportive wider zoo community so there’s been lots of knowledge sharing and online discussions with our American colleagues and our colleagues at Adelaide Zoo, who had tiger cubs early this year.

“We’re looking forward to continuing to share Zayana and Ramah’s breeding journey over the coming weeks and months with all our visitors and supporters. This is only the second time in the Zoo’s history that we’ve had a breeding pair of tigers, so it’s an incredible opportunity and privilege for us all to experience and learn more about these extraordinary big cats of which there are now fewer than 400 remaining in Sumatra,” says Nick.

Helping tigers in the wild

When you visit Auckland Zoo, you help support the conservation of Sumatran tigers and other threatened wildlife in the wild – so thank you! Through our Conservation Fund, the Zoo supports Wild Cats Conservation Alliance whose work monitoring and protecting wild tiger populations is crucial to preventing the extinction of these remarkable big cats. We also support the Sumatran Ranger Project (SRP). SRP’s rangers work in collaboration with local communities, to protect the wildlife (including tigers) and habitats of Gunung Leuser National Park in North Sumatra – part of the Leuser Ecosystem, one of the most diverse habitats on Earth.