Samkha, one of three new tiger cubs at the Calgary Zoo relaxes in the sun, July 27, 2012.

Photograph by: Grant Black , Calgary Herald

CALGARY — The Calgary Zoo’s three new cubs were more scaredy-cat than Siberian tigers Friday when confronted by a fake camel constructed of twigs, branches and camel hair.

The cubs, which are now about four months old, initially had plenty of bravado while spending about an hour wrestling with each other — until the camel, constructed by kids at a summer Zoo Camp, was brought into the tiger enclosure.

They stayed well back from the intruder, preferring to let their mother, Katja, make the first move.

Katja slowly approached the faux camel, sniffed it and then flattened it with a well-placed swipe.

“It has all sorts of different smells and sensations that they wouldn’t normally have in their habitat, so this is something new for them, something exciting,” said Zack Anderson, the continuing education program co-ordinator at the Calgary Zoo.

Anderson wasn’t disappointed at the lack of interaction between the cubs and the model camel.

“We want to make sure they have the best quality of life possible and doing things like this, it enhances their quality of life. It gives them something exciting and new and it’s not really any different than giving a new treat to your dog,” he added.

Their timidity wasn’t a total surprise.

Calgary Zoo’s communications co-ordinator, Trish Exton-Parder, noted they were terrified of the white fluff floating down from the cottonwood trees as well.

The two male cubs and one female were born in late March and each weighed about 750 grams. Four months later they tip the scales about 14 kilograms. An adult female weighs about 135 kilograms.

All three were given Russian names to mark their heritage.

The two males are Samkha and Vasili. Samkha means “sacred” and Vasili means “royal” or “kingly.” The girl was recently named Kira, which means “mistress” or “ruler” in Russian.

The birth was considered great news for the highly endangered species; there are only about 350 to 400 Siberian —also known as Amur — tigers in the world.

It was 11-year-old Katja’s second attempt at motherhood. She accidentally killed a pair of cubs she gave birth to in January 2011.

Anderson said it’s a thrill to have the three healthy cubs.

“They’re a valuable contribution to survival of the species because, of course, in the wild, Siberian tigers are not doing so hot,” he said.

“In captivity of course we try and keep the genetics as strong as possible and the cub’s mother, Katja — her father was actually a wild-born tiger, so their genetics are extremely valuable.”

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