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Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 14:48 GMT
Elderly tiger in shock pregnancy
Siberian tiger
There are only 300 Siberian tigers in the wild
An elderly Siberian tigress in a Chinese zoo has shocked her keepers by becoming pregnant, Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday.

Zookeepers in the city of Shenyang did not believe that the tigress, called "Meimei", could become pregnant, although they did notice her abdomen growing, the agency said.

At 20 years old, Meimei is already reaching the limits of life expectancy.

Siberian tigers rarely live beyond 25 years of age.

"Meimei is as old as an 80-year-old woman," said Jiang Zengfang, who heads the zoo's tiger park, was quoted as saying.

She is due to give birth between 3 and 5 February.

Sex life

The tigress, considered to be the grand old lady of her zoo, is so old that four canine teeth have fallen out, Xinhua said.

Siberian tigers
Siberian tigers are among the top 10 most endangered species in the world
Her age does not appear to have affected her sex life though.

Zookeepers say she mated with two male tigers more than 10 times on 20 October last year, the agency reported.

The tigress has been put on a special maternity diet which includes 7kg (15 pounds) of beef a day - an increase of 2kg from her usual diet. She is also being fed with eggs, milk powder and calcium tablets.

Siberian tigers are among the top 10 most endangered species in the world, with only 300 living in the wild.

The Shenyang tiger park - sited in Liaoning Province - has bred and raised 13 of the animals.

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See also:

20 Jan 99 | World
Mission to save the tiger
17 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Pandas turned on by toys
11 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Panda baby boom in China
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