Extremely Rare Sumatran Tigers Born At London Zoo—And They're Triplets [VIDEO]

By Josh Lieberman on March 13, 2014 2:04 PM EDT

sumatran tiger cub
Extremely rare Sumatran tiger cub triplets have been born at the London Zoo. Above, a Sumatran tiger cub at the Chester Zoo in northern England. (Photo: Reuters)

The London Zoo has welcomed three Sumatran tiger triplets into the world. The three cubs, which are as-yet unsexed, were born to Melati early last month after a normal 106-day pregnancy. The 5-year-old tigress previously gave birth to the first Sumatran cub birthed at the zoo in 17 years, but after just two weeks the cub drowned.

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"We couldn't be more delighted with our new arrivals, and with how Melati is responding to her three cubs," said zookeeper Teague Stubbington. "We've been observing them 24/7, and one of us is always on duty to keep an eye on the little ones throughout the night. We've even been able to observe key milestones like their eyes opening and their tentative first steps."

The Sumatran tiger cubs are being monitored with remote camera technology so that the tigers can have their distance. Melati and her cubs are kept in a "cubbing den," with the mother occasionally leaving to feed. The tiger cubs' father, Jae Jae, is in currently on public display at the zoo's new 27,000-square-foot Tiger Territory, where the triplets and Melati will eventually join him.

"While we still don't know whether they're boys or girls, we're starting to see their personalities develop," said Stubbington. "We've nicknamed one Trouble, as it's much bolder than the others--it was the first to start exploring its den and we've spotted it waking up its siblings when they fall asleep!"

London Zoo officials say they didn't interfere too much with Melati during the birth of her first cub in October, due to her nervous disposition, but in the wake of that cub's death they've taken measures to prevent another tragedy. "We've drained the pond and built a cub conservancy so that Melati has space to go outside with the cubs without going too far. The keepers are monitoring the situation 24/7 and taking turns to watch the cameras overnight."

Sumatran tigers are critically endangered, with only about 400 individuals living in the wild, down from about 1,000 in the 1970s. All Sumatran tigers in the wild live on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. In captivity, the tigers number about 360, 70 of which are in the United States. The Sumatran tiger is the sole surviving species of the Sunda Islands group of tigers, which previously included Bali tigers and Javan tigers.

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