Sumatran Tiger Cubs Grow Popular

They have gained weight, they are wildly popular, and they haven't been picked up in six weeks.

That, in brief, is what's been happening with a trio of Sumatran tiger cubs born in June at the National Zoo. The cubs--two males and a female--made their public debut in September.

Mike, Chrissie, Eric and their mother, Kerinci, come outside at 11 each morning and generally stay outdoors until 1:30 p.m. or so, according to keeper Wayne Millner. Then it's back inside to tackle the 20-pound pile of horsemeat the family shares each day.

The cubs weigh 40, 42 and 44 pounds and are in good health. They were Kerinci's third litter at the zoo. Slightly intimidated when they first came outside, the baby tigers bound about with confidence. Instead of trailing their 178-pound mother, they play with each other.

One recent morning, as a group of children oohed and aahed, the cubs chased each other around, rolled on the ground and jumped from level to level of their outdoor enclosure.

"Their focus has changed," Millner said. "It's the joy of being a cub now. They're totally cute."

Not so cute, though, that zoo keepers feel free to handle them the way they did when they were little. Millner said he hasn't picked one up in six weeks and may never do so again.

The cubs eventually will go to other zoos to become part of an international breeding program, because Sumatran tigers are rare. For now, though, they are attracting thousands of fans. The zoo's Internet site--www.si.edu/natzoo--has had more than 35,000 hits from people viewing the cubs via a Web camera in their den.

-- D'Vera Cohn

Home Builder Repairs Owner Relations

Many neighbors in Loudoun County's new Farmwell Hunt community have become good friends even though they are no longer united by the bond of outrage that brought them together.

Residents said that Toll Brothers Inc., their home builder, has repaired most of the problems with their new houses that brought the community together earlier this year. They had bonded over similar stories of houses built with missing doorknobs, inoperative phone jacks, faulty duct work and repeated complaints to the builder that went unanswered for months.

Residents said the company sent in an army of repairmen after an article in The Washington Post.

"They just basically came in and said, 'What are the problems?' and then they fixed it," said Eric A. Adolphe, 33, who organized 17 owners and hired a lawyer, threatening to sue the Pennsylvania builder--an idea since dropped. Adolphe, who called his experience with Toll Brothers a "nightmare," now says, "We're quite happy."

Cory DeSpain, regional vice president for Toll Brothers, said that the company had experienced high turnover in its community management staff and that the new managers are receiving high marks for their responsiveness from owners.

"We're going to continue to work hard to make them happy," DeSpain said.

-- Justin Blum

Crowding at School Eases

It was a teacher's nightmare, and Michelle Mayfield faced it right there in her kindergarten class at Flintstone Elementary: 47 pupils crammed into one 38-by-25-foot room.

That was in September, when an unexpected enrollment spike at the Prince George's County school combined with already crowded conditions.

Two months later, things are more comfortable. Two trailer classrooms were added to the four on the school's grounds, and two classes of older students moved into those. That freed space for another kindergarten class, leaving Mayfield with 23 students.

But crowding problems remain. Flintstone has a designed capacity of 506 and an enrollment of 683. Officials had to convert the music room and the computer lab to classrooms. A complicating factor is that Flintstone is a magnet school with a Montessori program whose classes are capped at 25 students. Some Flintstone parents back a proposal to provide a separate building dedicated to Montessori.

"It would be an excellent thing" for the Montessori program to move students from various schools to one building "so those teachers can devote themselves to the Montessori method," said Pamela Miller, Flintstone Parent-Teacher Association president.

And it also might ensure that Mayfield doesn't ever have 47 pupils in one room again.

-- David Nakamura