This week, Assiniboine Park Zoo officials are waiting to break out the cigars as Kendra, a 12-year-old Amur tiger, shows every sign of being ready to give birth to a litter of one or more cubs.
Zoo veterinarians aren’t 100 per cent sure that Kendra is, indeed, in a delicate condition. It’s tough to diagnose pregnancies in tigers without invasive diagnostic techniques, so Kendra’s caretakers have based their expectations on monitoring hormone levels and watching her behaviour.
And all signs point to "pregnant," zoo officials said in a release today. "Everyone at the Assiniboine Park Zoo is beyond excited about this expected arrival," said Tim Sinclair-Smith, director of zoological operations.
"We hope to see a very special addition to the zoo family in the coming days so we’re monitoring Kendra very closely and hope to have an official announcement soon."
It’s not yet known how many little mewlers Kendra might have: the average litter size for Amur tigers (also known as Siberian tigers) is two, but anywhere from one to four cubs is normal for the species.
If she is indeed ready to pop, chances are high the cubs will survive. Not only is Kendra already a mom, but the Assiniboine Park Zoo estimates its birth success rate in 2011 will reach 80 to 90 per cent, "well above the North American zoo average" according to the zoo’s statement.
If the cubs are born soon, the new family will likely get some privacy: the babies, who are born with their eyes and ears shut, will stay close to their mum until they are about six weeks old.
At that point, it’s likely Kendra will let them venture out of the den and into the wild world of the tiger exhibit, where the public can sneak a peek – and probably snap some ace YouTube videos.
They will join a long list of brand-new furries on display at the zoo this year, including baby lynxes, red pandas, musk oxen and stone sheep.