About one year ago I wrote a blog post titled Jaguars: The Next Step. We had just recently introduced the San Diego Zoo’s jaguars with the hope of producing some much-needed cubs. As it turns out, the next step was the first step in a rollercoaster year that included hundreds of hours of behavioral observation, collection of more fecal samples than I care to remember, lots of amazing moments between the cats, and the heartbreak of an unsuccessful litter born in October.
Over the course of the year we compiled a huge amount of jaguar data, some of which will be shared with other zoos all over the world to improve zoo-based breeding of this endangered cat. We saw our young, small Nindiri grow into an adult female, trading in some of her playful ways for more mature endeavors. We saw Guapo grow into a more confident animal as he figured out just how to get along with our always-spicy Nindiri. It was a year of many firsts for our jaguar friends and their keepers. We also achieved another milestone, something that we haven’t seen in San Diego for more than 20 years.
I have the privilege of announcing that a year’s worth of hard work, patience, and a major cooperative effort by people and jaguar has paid off. On April 26, Nindiri gave birth to two healthy, thriving little cubs, the first surviving jaguar cubs born at the San Diego Zoo since 1989. She quickly proved that she really has what it takes to be a great mother. Nindiri has been extremely attentive, opting to stay in her den box with her cubs nearly 24 hours a day. The few minutes away that she does take involve grabbing a few mouthfuls of food, a quick drink of water, and then back to her duties as mother.
Our first official exam took place on their fourth day of life and involved getting a weight and a very quick all-over check by one of our vets. Much to my surprise, their eyes were already open. I hadn’t expected this to happen until they were at least a week old. Both cubs passed their quick exam with flying colors. The exam also gave us an early glimpse into personality. The first cub examined displayed some Nindiri-like attitude, hissing at me as I gently picked it up—a girl! The second cub, a boy, was quiet throughout the exam and seemed much less bothered by our imposition. Cleary cub #2 got his personality from Dad.
In the coming weeks will come the eating of solid foods, learning about our visitors, swimming lessons, figuring out how to get up into trees and—more importantly—just how to get down, and many, many other lessons that a jaguar cub must learn. Nindiri’s duties will continue to change throughout their many stages of life, and she has much to teach. It turns out that with these new cubs we are embarking on a new Next Step. A step toward a new, more maternal Nindiri. A step toward the next generation of jaguars. A step toward the conservation of this amazing species and ultimately a brighter future for the breeding of jaguars in our much-needed breeding programs. This next year will be another year of firsts, and I hope that you will share it with us.
Our new little residents will be off exhibit for a while, but look for them in Elephant Odyssey in the not-too-distant future.
Jacob Shanks is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Zoo Conference: AZA.