TACOMA—You can almost hear the "oohs" and "ahhs" expected at the Point Defiance Zoo a little later this month -- when a couple of baby tigers are born.
Today the zoo announced an endangered Sumatran tiger named "Jaya" is pregnant and expected to give birth later this month.
During ultrasound procedures, Zoo staff have detected two cubs. But they say a third may be present.
All the happiness and joy is mixed with some sadness, though. Jaya's mate, "Bali", who sired the cubs, has been diagnosed with cancer and started chemotherapy treatment in late April.
"This is truly a bittersweet story of the circle of life," said Zoo general curator Karen Goodrowe Beck. "Animals come and go, but a species as endangered and beloved as this really has an impact on all of us."
The estimated due date for the cubs is May 22nd. Zoo staff members are carefully preparing for their arrival.
Those preps include a 24-hour watch beginning several days before birth, continuous video monitoring and hand-rearing supplies.
"Wild animals sometimes don't care for their young, and there is a small chance Jaya, as a first-time mother may not care for her cubs," said Goodrowe Beck. "In case anything does go wrong, our staff are prepared to swiftly step in and manage their care."
The zoo's veterinarians and other staff members are also taking care of Bali.
They're consulting with a veterinary oncologist to provide the best treatment possible, and his health is being closely monitored.
"We don't know how long Bali has," said Goodrowe Beck. "We are treating his illness and keeping a close eye on his quality of life."
Both Bali and Jaya can be seen on exhibit in the zoo's Asian Forest Sanctuary. Bali is displaying no outward signs of treatment, but Jaya's pregnancy is beginning to show.
A typical tiger pregnancy lasts a little more than three months. After they are born, the cubs will remain behind the scenes for several months. If all goes well, the cubs will make their debut on exhibit later this summer.
Six-year-old Jaya, has lived at Point Defiance Zoo since 2004. Bali is eleven years old and came to Tacoma from the San Francisco Zoo in September 2009. His cancer was not apparent at that time.