Editor's note: For safety and privacy purposes, the name of the Lagoon veterinarian and location of where the tigers are temporarily being cared for have been withheld.
FARMINGTON -- Two 12-week-old white Bengal tiger cubs, the temporary rowdy house guest of the Lagoon veterinarian caring for them, are the latest homegrown additions to the Farmington amusement park zoo.
The male and female felines, known as Titan and Athena, now weighing between 25 and 35 pounds, are scheduled to return within the month to the Lagoon zoo where they were born Sept. 12, said a Lagoon animal manager.
"We have two new white tiger cubs," Lagoon vice president of marketing Dick Andrew said proudly.
"They are the offspring of our (mature white Bengal) tigers," he said.
The small zoo, with about 70 animals, is part of the park's Wild Kingdom Ride, a canopy-covered, slow-moving train that takes guests around a lagoon and past enclosures where lions, tigers and eagles are kept.
It's not uncommon for animals at the park zoo to give birth, Andrew said. But this is the first time white Bengal tigers, a unique animal, he said, have been part of that zoo offspring.
"These are quite rare animals," Andrew said.
The coat of a white Bengal tiger is caused by a double recessive allele in the genetic makeup, and turns up naturally only about once in every 10,000 births, according to The Indian Tiger Welfare Society website.
White tigers in the wild live for about 10 to 15 years, while white tigers in zoos usually survive 16 to 20 years, the website reads.
"They are considered to be on the endangered species list, although they not a species," Lagoon's animal manager said.
But Lagoon officials have yet to make a decision whether the tiger cubs will be marketed as a park attraction come this spring when the park reopens.
"We really don't know what our long-term plans are for them," Andrew said.
If the tigers are to be permanently placed in the park, Andrew said, he would expect they would be placed in an enclosure separate of the den where the park's mature tigers are held.
"If all goes well the tiger (cubs) will be brought down here to Lagoon in a month or so," Andrew said. "They are really cute, and quite stunning to look at."
The physical characteristics separating the male from the female, outside gender, is that the male, Titan, has a more block-shaped head and is a little larger, while Athena has stripes that run the length of her paws.
But how the pair of Bengal cubs came to be did initially catch park officials off-guard.
In September 2009 Lagoon acquired for its zoo two mature white Bengal tigers, a male and female, from an Indiana zoo facing financial hardship, the park's animal manager said.
One of the tigers, a female, within weeks of arriving became sick and died from a pre-existing lung fungus she had come in contact with before arriving at Lagoon.
With the male tiger being unhappy and struggling with the loss of his mate, the park acquired another female white Bengal tiger in February, the park manager said.
That particular female was pregnant at the time, giving birth to a litter of three premature cubs with deformities that as a result all died within hours.
The park than had a difficult time getting the female tiger to eat, but her appetite improved once she was put in with the original white Bengal male.
It was on Sept. 12 the female, still in a weakened state from a lack of eating, gave birth to Titan and Athena.
The two tiger cubs were immediately separated from their mother upon the veterinarian's recommendation after she showed no interest in cleaning them after the birth, including removing the birthing sack off the male.
The cubs were then taken to Lagoon's veterinarian, who for 12 weeks has been caring for the tigers, including bottle-feeding them a diet consisting of a powdered milk substance and goats milk, beef-flavored Gerber baby food and of late, some solids, including salmon and halibut.
Under the supervision of the veterinarian, the tiger cubs, who romp and wrestle about like two large house kittens armed with a jungle growl attitude, have continued to grow, adding about a half-a-pound per day to their weight.
Before the animals reach full maturity, the male will weigh about 700 pounds, while the female will weigh between 450 to 550 pounds, officials said.
"So, they have been raised and fed by this veterinarian, and are healthy," Andrew said.
But the cubs are still young enough to where they are vulnerable to "this, that and the other," he said. For that reason the cubs will remain in relative isolation until a later date, Andrew said.
To make the cubs feel at home when they do arrive back at the park, the couches the cubs have been playing and sleeping on while under the veterinarian's care will come with them, said the park animal manager.