Zoo's tiger cubs a feast to watch


The tiger cubs at Cougar Mountain Zoo enjoy playing with their stuffed tiger toy.

ISSAQUAH — A couple of months ago, when Cougar Mountain Zoo’s bouncing baby tiger cubs were being shown off at local TV stations, they were able to play and frolic in the news anchors’ laps.

Not any more.

"They’re getting too big," explains Robyn Barfoot, zoo curator. "From now on, just the staff will be handling them."

Vitez, a royal white Bengal, and his brother Bagheera, an orange Bengal, weighed in at 44 and 53 pounds respectively last week and growing bigger by the day.

Visitors can still watch them play, however, and that’s always plenty of fun. They tug at a stuffed tiger toy, play king of the mountain, wrestle and generally do what tiger cubs do, which is look really cute.

The cubs, born May 17 at an Arizona zoo, came from a litter of four, said Barfoot. "The two sisters are still in Arizona," she said. "The father is a royal white Bengal and the mother an orange Bengal."

Barfoot says the cubs are fed a milk and meat diet – the food comes from a source that produces commercial zoo food. "It’s mostly meat now," she said.

The small zoo tucked on a hillside overlooking Lake Sammamish is also home to two very regal-looking adult tigers, who will soon be moved to new quarters. On Sept. 26 they will be introduced to their new and expanded tiger habitat. Preparations are underway for "The Tail of Two Tigers," a special fundraising event on that day for visitors to enjoy watching the two tigers as they explore their new home. For tickets, call (425) 392-6278.

Cougar Mountain Zoo was started in 1972 as a teaching tool for the adjacent Cougar Mountain Academy. The 8-acre zoo eventually separated from the private school and is now a nonprofit. Besides the tigers, the animal collection includes lemurs, a cougar, cranes, reindeer, macaws, wallabies, emus, alpacas, crowned cranes, a kookaburra, and, for fans of the "Twilight" series, Bella and Alice, two mule deer babies. Activities for visitors include behavior enrichment demonstrations, mini-lectures, close encounters and wildlife theater. The zoo is also home to the largest bronze animal zoo art collection in the world. Volunteer opportunities abound for those 18 and older who are interested in wildlife education and conservation.

"One of our missions is to promote awareness of the plight of endangered species," said Barfoot. "We have many educational programs that address that."

Tiger cub watching is 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. which includes a mini-lecture.

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