THEY may look cute and cuddly now – but these new arrivals are set to play a vital role in the future of a critically-endangered species.

Three bright and bouncy Sumatran tiger cubs have made their first public appearance at Flamingo Land zoo near Pickering.

And although right now they are a mischievous handful for proud mum Surya, they are ultimately destined to be crucial in the survival of the species.

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The trio, two females and a male, were born at the zoo on March 22, boosting the worldwide population of Sumatran tigers – thought to be as low as 400 – by one per cent.

Zoo spokesman Sarah Mills said: “This is a big boost for the species and we are very proud.”

She added: “We are really pleased that the cubs are of both sexes as it means they will be able to play their own important part in boosting numbers once they have grown up.”

It is also hoped that Surya and the cubs’ father, Bawa, will go on to produce more cubs in the future

The Sumatran is one of the most endangered subspecies of tiger. They are threatened by the illegal trade in tiger parts and the loss of their native habitat in Indonesia.

The zoo is heavily involved in conservation work, having close links with York University’s environment department

And next year Dr Andy Marshall, an environment lecturer at the university and director of conservation science at the zoo, will travel to Sumatra to investigate the potential for further protection of the species in their native country.

Dr Marshall said: “This is a significant event for tigers worldwide.”