A rare Sumatran tiger at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo has killed and eaten her two five-week-old cubs, much to the disappointment of the zoo's endangered species breeding programme, the zoo's chief vet said on Monday (29 December).

"One cub died shortly after birth but the other two were in good health. We discovered they had been killed when we went to weigh them. We have no explanation for the behaviour of the mother, who had taken good care of them at the start," the head veterinarian and zoological director, Dr. Nili Avni-Magen told AFP News.

The 10-year-old mother tiger, Hannah, had given birth to the three cubs after mating with a tiger from Germany called Avigdor.

At around six weeks after birth, when the zoo staff was in the process of weighing the cubs, they discovered that Hannah had eaten them.

According to Dr. Avni-Magen, Hannah was known not to take care of her cubs, which is considered a common phenomenon in big cats who cease to look after their young and often end up eating them.

Dr. Avni-Magen, however, remains hopeful that better results will follow next time Hannah mates with Avigdor.

Sumatran tigers are listed as 'critically endangered' by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

It is estimated that around 400 Sumatran tigers survive the wild on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia.

Captive breeding programmes at zoo helped raise their number from 180 to 261 in 2008.

A record 32 were born in captivity in 2014 alone.

The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo has a strong reputation for breeding endangered species and houses a range of wildlife referred to in the Hebrew Bible.