Two Siberian baby tigers at a Central China Henan Province zoo have shown that even future top predators can have an unusual start in life by living off milk from a sheep.
Since their birth on August 5, the two tiger cubs have been drinking sheep milk six times a day from a feeding bottle.
"It's too early for them to notice any difference," said a breeder surnamed Cui with the zoo in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan Province.
The cubs, Yu Mi and Hua Sheng, had to be separated from their four brothers and sisters after birth.
Unlike the other four of the sextuplets, who were drinking from their mother's nipples, the two had to drink milk from a sheep.
"A female Siberian tiger normally has four nipples for newborns, the number of which is often fewer than four for one birth," said Cui.
"But this time, our girl gave birth to six. It's a rare phenomenon and a mother tiger's milk may not be enough for all her babies," Cui added.
To avoid the baby tigers from going hungry, the zoo let a sheep wet nurse raise two of the six cubs.
"We took two babies cautiously when the mother tiger was licking water outside the cage," said Cui.
Sheep milk will be Yu Mi and Hua Sheng's main meal for the next 30 to 40 days, and then they will be gradually weaned off it. They have already grown to 30 centimeters.
Their names were selected from more than 200 suggestions provided by netizens. They are pronounced like "corn" and "peanut" in Chinese characters, but also indicate that they were born in Central China.
Their wet nurse has provided milk for cubs in the past when female tigers have either lacked experience or showed little interest in breeding their young.