A pair of jaguar cubs born June 6 in Iberá National Park in northern Argentina are more than just totally adorable. As the first born in the park in decades, the week-old cubs are bringing hope to conservationists who are trying to save these giant cats from a population decline.
The cubs' first-time mother, a three-legged jaguar named Tania, was born and raised in a zoo, while their father, Chiqui, was born in the wild but raised at a rescue center. Conservationists brought the two jaguars into the park to meet and mingle as part of a Jaguar Reintroduction Program launched by Tompkins Conservation in 2011 and funded by National Geographic.
Jaguars are listed by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as "Near Threatened," and their numbers have decreased by 40 percent since historical estimates, according to National Geographic. There are roughly 15,000 wild jaguars worldwide today, 200 of which live in Argentina. The goal is to bring the population in the 341,205-acre park to at least 100, according to National Geographic. [Gallery: Tiger Species of the World]
Jaguar numbers have been declining mostly because of deforestation that has fragmented their habitat, led to the demise of their prey and exposed them to hunters.
Conservationists hope that as the babies grow, they will learn from their mother how to hunt, so that eventually they can be released in the middle of the park to live in the wild. (If they can't hunt on their own, the scientists will provide them with meat without being exposed to humans.) But all in all, for an inexperienced mother, Tania is doing quite well with her not-yet-named babies, according to the National Geographic.
For a few more days, the conservationists will just continue to check in on the first-time-mother and her babies through remote surveillance, to allow them a chance to begin to naturally grow up together, without the touch of a human fingerprint.
Originally published on Live Science.