Tiger is one of the most charismatic species of the Indian Jungle. It is the largest carnivore on land and holding this reputation, it attracts the attention of people from all walks of life. They are apex predators and an umbrella species for the conservation of the forest’s ecosystem. This was the principle behind Project Tiger when it first launched in April 1973. Tiger conservation not only benefits the tiger himself but the whole ecosystem – including forests, rivers, co-predators like leopards and wild dogs, and prey species like deer, wild boar, gaur etc.
The Birth of a Tiger
A Tiger is born after spending about 105 days in their mother’s womb. When they are born they are helpless and blind and there is a reason behind it. Most of the carnivores have a short gestation period so that mothers can hunt easily. Carrying 2-5 full-grown babies in her womb and then hunting will prove quite difficult for the mother. It will increase the chances for miscarriage and stillbirth.
So the Tiger, the largest predator on land, is born helpless. If not protected by the mother, they can be killed by even a jackal. There are several enemies of tigers and the chances of survival of the cubs are very less unless the tigress is an experienced mother. Tigers are prolific breeders, producing many cubs each year but on the other hand, they have high cub’s mortality due to natural calamities and being hunted down by other co-predators. Infanticide is also very common in tigers mostly by different male tigers in the territory of the father of the cubs.
Life of a Tiger After Birth
To compensate for the high cub mortality, a tigress produces more than 2 cubs during each pregnancy. The survival of the cubs depends on how effectively their mother keeps them away from the predators and on how effectively she hunts for them as well as for herself. They are so small that the weight of a newborn tiger cub is between 785 grams to 1,610 grams, much lesser than a newborn human baby. Their eyes open somewhere between 6 to 12 days, but they get full vision only after a couple of weeks. Tigresses therefore are overly cautious about their cubs and protect them with great ferocity, not only from animals smaller then her but also sometimes from a big male tiger. She can sense the danger very effectively and keep moving her cubs to different places to avoid danger.
During this period her movement is restricted and she leaves cubs only when she needs to drink or hunt. She tries to keep them in the area where water sources and prey availability is high. Tigress keeps licking her cubs which stimulates the cub’s circulation and bowl movement more like a human baby needs regular massage. Tigress nurses her cubs solely on her milk till they attend the age of two months, after which they start taking solid food and this is the time when they start following their mother. When they follow their mother they always follow her instructions and stay close to her. She is their only defense when they go out in the wild. Usually when tigress makes a kill she takes her cubs to the site to share the kill. When they go out they may encounter dangerous animals like elephants and rhinos, and they learn how to avoid them. Mother protects them aggressively and may kill if someone comes too close to the cubs. There are cases when a tigress has killed dominant male tigers to save her cubs. Generally, the father of the cubs never harms them. At times, he shares some quality time and kill with the cubs.
The teenage (Sub-Adult) Tiger
Another important phase in the life cycle of Bengal Tiger is teenage. After attaining the age of one year they follow their mother very frequently and start learning skills to hunt. They develop agility, stalking and other hunting skills through play and mock charges among their siblings and mothers. When they are 12 to 18 months old their milk teeth are replaced with strong permanent teeth, which makes them capable to hunt and kill larger ungulate pray.
They join their mother in hunting down large pray like Gaur etc. Once they attain the age of 18 months they start moving away, adventuring in the wild on their own. By the age of 1 or 2 years, they move away from the family entirely, and distance themselves from the dominating male tigers in the territory. Ultimately they move away from the family in search of their own territory. This is the time when these male tigers become transient floaters. At the same time when these cubs are less dependent on their mother, the tigress comes into estrus and mates again. When she is expecting her second litter, she tries to force out the sub-adults again.
Tiger Finding a Home (Territory and Home Ranges)
In simpler words, the territory is part of a home range that is actively patrolled and protected aggressively. Finding a suitable territory is not easy. A suitable territory means a good prey base, water availability throughout the year, cover to hide, and mate to reproduce. The male tigers generally travel a lot in search of a suitable territory and during this process, they are very vulnerable, chances are high that they come into contact with a big male tiger or they also might get into conflict with the local villagers. If they succeed to get their territory they start searching for a suitable mate.
On the other hand, most of the female cubs get their territory close to their mother’s territory or they get a part of the mother’s territory. I have seen three different females using the same fire line in Kanha Tiger Reserve. These all females are interrelated and live peacefully sharing the territory with each other. Male tigers generally don’t share the territory with other males but on certain occasions, it has been observed by researchers that, closely related or brothers that have grown up together share their territory with each other.
Tiger Finding a Mate
Male tigers separate from their mother by the age of two years but they generally get their territory by the age of four years and that is the time when they get the right to mate with the females. Though tigers are solitary they communicate with each other by various means. These include vocal, visual & chemical signals. These signals not only help them in informing other tigers about the status of resident tigers but also helps to find a suitable mate. When females are in estrus, they communicate it through the chemical signal. They mix the secretion from their anal glands with urine and spray it on rocks and trees, generally on the surface where it can stay for a long. A surface exposed to sun and rain is not very suitable for spray marking.
When they find a suitable mate they stay together for 3 to 5 days or even longer. During this period they are called a mating pair. These mating pair copulate almost 50 times a day for about 10 to 15 seconds each. During mating, they are found hunting together and many at times it was observed that the male hunts and offers it to the female. After this short association, they separate. Tiger society depends upon the number of breeding females, so a male tiger can have 2-7 females in his territory, depending upon how productive the area. On average, the male and female sex ratio in tigers is 1: 3, which is maintained by selective killing and more deaths of males in fighting.
Land Tenure of a Tiger
An adult male tiger can hold his territory for no longer than 2-4 years, while females can hold it for longer for about 5-7 years. On average a female produces 3-4 cubs every 2-3 years. This dynamic land tenure system of tigers keeps their breeding population healthy. It is observed some of the dominant males can hold their prime territory for longer but in the end, they have to leave it for younger and stronger rivals. At old age, they have to move out from their prime habitat and find a place in a more disturbed habitat where they often come into conflict with the local villagers.
The End of a Tiger (Death)
The last phase in the life cycle of Bengal Tiger. Tigers can live 13-14 years in natural conditions while in captivity they can live up to 20 years. Generally, females can survive more than males. In jungles when they become old they are unable to hunt due to stiff joints, broken teeth, etc. This is the time either they starve to death, died in a fight, or come into conflict. When in conflict generally tigers end up poisoned or in captivity.
During their lifetime, a tiger provides immense ecosystem services to mankind. Tigers live a short but royal life which makes them a true kings of the Jungle.