A RARE DAY AT THE ZOO Two cubs born to Siberian tiger to make debut


"Watch the Cubs play in Baltimore," the invitation reads.

But you won't be watching baseball at Camden Yards -- not with Chicago's Cubs mired in fourth place in the National League East and the Orioles alternating win streaks and swan dives.

The invitation is from the Baltimore Zoo, where a rare pair of Siberian tiger cubs born nine weeks ago will make their public debut this morning

As yet unnamed, the endangered cubs are the result of a mail-order romance arranged by the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums under its Species Survival Program.

Mother Alisa was sent here from the Bronx, N.Y., on long-term breeding loan to mate with the Baltimore Zoo's Fasier -- they are the only big cats of the Siberian species sanctioned by U.S. zoo experts for mating this year in the program, which is aimed at tTC fostering genetic strength and diversity in captivity, rather than numbers.

In the wild, the Siberian tiger -- the largest cat on the planet -- is doomed by its beauty and human greed. The animal is treasured for its beautiful orange and black striped pelt, and what little protection it enjoyed from government was weakened by dissolution of the Soviet Union.

When the cubs were born July 11 -- a third was stillborn -- Baltimore Zoo Director Brian A. Rutledge said the number of Siberian tigers in the wild was believed to be no more than 300 to 500. There are about 170 captive and registered in the North American zoological program.

While people may delight in watching the 18-pound cubs explore their exhibit and annoy the attentive Alisa (like all mother cats, she is beginning to notice those claws and sharp teeth, and to resist frequent nursing), Fasier will not be getting much joy from fatherhood.

The splendid 6-year-old male is alone in his exhibit, able to hear and smell the mother and cubs when the breeze is right, but not to interact with them.

"We try to replicate what they do in the wild," said zoo spokeswoman Patrice Malloy. "The father plays no role in the upbringing of the young. The social unit is just the mother and the young."

Imagine -- no visitation rights.

And for his dalliance with Alisa, who was born in the wild, Fasier was taken away from Roxanne, his girlfriend and sibling by adoption since their birth at the Minneapolis Zoo and their move together to Baltimore at the age of 2. It has not been determined whether Fasier will return to Roxanne's side.

Also undetermined are names for the female cubs. For now, they have International Species Inventory System numbers 93-049 and 93-050 and keepers' nicknames "the light one" and "the dark one."

The zoo is celebrating their birth with "Tigermania" activities, including a name-the-cubs contest with entries by visitors to the exhibit.

How about Thelma and Louise?

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