The tiger cubs are six months old!
Happy half-birthday to Milashki and Mishka
It's been six months since Amur tigress Minerva gave birth to two healthy female cubs back in September last year.
Since then, the cubs have been named Milashki and Mishka, and have been busy exploring their nine-acre enclosure with their mother.
Here, Acting Head of Carnivores, Craig Lancaster looks back on the last six months and talks us through his experiences caring for these critically-endangered animals.
"We were aware that Minerva was pregnant, so myself and the carnivore keepers kept a close eye on her, especially as her due date approached. On the morning of the 17th of September 2015, I pulled up outside the tiger house as I do every morning and was greeted by some very vocal tiger cubs. Looking through the window, I could see one cub suckling away on mum and the other one between mum's paws, being cleaned by her.
"It was important at this stage that Minerva was left quietly and not stressed in any way, so she wasable to focus on bonding with her newborns. It was decided that keeper activity inside the tiger house would be kept to a minimum in the first few weeks of the cubs being born, to give her the peace she needed."
7-14 weeks old
"At around seven weeks old, the cubs started to try meat for the first time and would have a little nibble on mum's dinner, when she was fed. The cubs and Minerva stayed inside the tiger house for the first 12 weeks, so that they could bond and the cubs could be weaned. This was also extremely important to allow time for the cubs to have their inoculations. The vaccinations are the same as those used for domestic cats and are given by injection at nine weeks old and 12 weeks old.
"A few days after their last inoculations, I began letting the tigers out into their side pen for a few hours each day, to get the cubs used to the smaller enclosure, before they were given the freedom of the full nine acres of the tiger reserve.”
15-26 weeks old
"We were delighted to have the team from kids’ TV show Blue Peter come in to meet the cubs and film them being let out into their main enclosure for the first time. The two girls were named by the public, with two competition winners choosing Milashki and Mishka as the winning names. Mishka is extremely bold, confident and is definitely the dominant one out of the two. Milashki is much more timid and stays closer to mum.
"The cubs were finally able to explore the main enclosure for the first time and as expected, they had a great time exploring their new home. It was wonderful for myself and their other keepers to see how excitable the cubs were outdoors - especially when play fighting and taking a dip in their pool!"
"The cubs are now six months old and it has been wonderful as their keepers to watch them grow. Minerva has excelled as a first time mother and we hope visitors enjoy seeing them play and explore as much as the staff do."