MOUNT VERNON — The first tiger triplets born in Maine won’t be here very long.
Dozens of people visited DEW Animal Kingdom & Sanctuary on Friday to get a look at the three cubs born June 8 to a white Bengal mother and a part-Siberian father.
One of the cubs pawed at the netting of the playpen when people approached, while the other two slept soundly under heat lamps, lying next to stuffed animal toys. The two male cubs’ coats are white with brown stripes like their mother’s, and the female club looks more like her part-Siberian tiger father, with an orange-tinted coat.
“Aw, I want one,” said one woman looking at the triplets through the metal fence as the sanctuary’s marketing manager, Heidi Perez, held up one of the male cubs.
The sanctuary was charging to let people feed the cubs with assistance from staff, but the available slots have all been filled, Perez said. People can still visit until July 5 – there are daily admission fees – to see the cubs in their playpens through a metal grate. Soon after that, they’ll go to three out-of-state homes with animal education and breeding programs.
“As much as we want people to see them, it is all about the cubs and their health and safety,” Perez said.
She wouldn’t say where they’ll be sent because she said it will be up to their new homes to decide whether to let people know about the cubs.
Bob Miner, a disabled Vietnam War veteran who owns DEW Animal Kingdom & Sanctuary with his wife, Julie, started the refuge in 1980 as therapy and operates it as a nonprofit organization.
The 42-acre sanctuary on Pond Road is home to more than 200 animals, including exotic animals such as lemurs and panthers, along with species native to Maine and barnyard animals.
Tigers aren’t the only big cats at the sanctuary – across the dirt path from the enclosure where the cubs’ parents, Tritan and Makeena, live, lions make their home.
Makeena, a 3-year-old white Bengal tiger, came to the sanctuary when she was a month old and weighed less than 10 pounds. She’s now around 350 pounds, and Tritan is around 500 pounds, Perez said. The tigers can grow to more than 1,000 pounds, she said.
The refuge has another male tiger named Cocheney.
Bengal and Siberian tigers are listed as endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The total population of Bengal tigers is estimated to be fewer than 2,500, and the population of Siberians is estimated at 360.
Different tigers have been at the sanctuary for more than 15 years, but this was the first time they successfully bred, Perez said.
“It was definitely a surprise, a good surprise for us,” she said.
The sanctuary has seen a huge uptick in interest since it began displaying the tiger triplets to the public. Hundreds of people have sent emails asking if they can feed them, she said.
“I’ve had so many people contact me: ‘This is the one thing on my bucket list. My kids have to see them,’” Perez said. Tigers already were popular animals at the sanctuary, she said.
“I don’t know if it’s their size or the beauty of them. The tiger has always been our favorite animal to visit,” Perez said.