MICHIGAN CITY | The Michigan City zoo is showing its white tiger cubs born less than two weeks ago to its female tiger.
"As a first time mom, she's excellent. She's tremendous," Washington Park Zoo Directory Johnny Martinez said.
To avoid putting more stress Zusha, the mother, the zoo will install a camera to give visitors a glimpse of the more than 300-pound tiger nursing and cleaning her cubs on a screen outside the facility where they're kept.
Zusha and the cubs' father, Zeus, were brought to the zoo in 2010 as cubs themselves.
The tigers were housed together to prepare them for mating and, when Zusha reached maturity, had an implant removed that kept her sterile.
Not long after that, she became pregnant and delivered the litter about 100 days after conceiving, Martinez said.
"We raised them side by side," he said.
Because male tigers sometimes prey upon their young, Zeus is in a separate holding area in the same building. After dark, he is moved outside into a cage to be on display.
St. John resident Ayako Harper came to the zoo with her husband, Shawn, and their daughters, Marissa, 11, and Nicole, 9.
"It's beautiful," she said of the tigers.
"I have a friend who loves white tigers," said Marissa, who had seen white tigers before on TV but never in person.
Zusha and her cubs are indoors, but could begin seeing daylight in six months when the baby tigers start becoming independent of their mother.
Elizabeth Emerick, a zoo curator, was proud of Zusha for acting on her instincts to nurture her young. That is something Zusha's mother failed to do.
As a result, Emerick took Zusha to her LaPorte home at night for about three months to continue round the clock feedings.
"It's great to see her turn out to be such a good parent," Emerick said.
Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend has the only other white tiger in the state, but Ivory is 18 years old and with her nearing life expectancy there are no plans to replace her.
All tigers are classified as endangered. The white tigers can grow to more than 600 pounds and are second to the Siberian tiger as the largest of the cat family.
Most tigers are native to India, where breeding of white ones captured in the wild began in 1957 for the rich and powerful to showcase.
"They are still being found in the wild but not that frequently," Martinez said.
Within a year, Martinez said one of the cubs will be sent to Wisconsin where his mother came from under an agreement that allowed the Washington Park Zoo to acquire Zusha.
The other cub will also be moved to a facility with a need for a white tiger, but that destination has not been decided.
Zusha and Zeus will be allowed to mate again at the zoo.
"It's a unique color variation that we plan continuing on with," Martinez said.