Zoo officials say baby tiger death 'very unexpected'

Los Angeles Zoo officials say the death of rare baby Sumatran tiger was "very unexpected," given that the mother has never lost a cub since 2005.

Zookeepers found the tiger cub dead Monday morning, apparently of head trauma. The cub was one of three baby male Sumatran tigers born Aug. 6.

Zoo officials said a necropsy performed on the cub after it was found indicated that it had sustained head trauma, but they are still trying to figure out how the wound occurred.

Only the mother has access to the cubs, which are completely dependent on her for the first year, zoo spokeswoman Lienani Bernabe said.

The mother, Lulu, successfully raised her litters in 2005 and 2007, for a total of five cubs.

"So this was very unexpected for us…but we are excited about the other two," Bernabe said.

Because the tigers, found exclusively on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, are so rare, every successful birth is cause for celebration, she added.

Among the smallest of tigers, the Sumatran is endangered due mostly to loss of habitat, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Only several hundred of the tigers are thought to remain in the wild, with poachers continuing to whittle down that number each year.

Photo: Two of three Sumatran tiger cubs born last month at the L.A. Zoo are shown in an Aug. 26 photo. One of the three cubs was found dead Monday. Credit: Los Angeles Zoo

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