Tiger Family Life
by Kathy Kranking; photos by Suzi Eszterhas/ suzieszterhas.com
Check out how cute these cubs are. . . but don't get too close! See the look on their mom's face? She's saying, "Back away from my babies!"
Tiger moms are fierce protectors of their young. This mom, Rajberah (rahzh-BAIR-uh), began protecting her cubs, Nisha and Kumar, before they were even born. When it got close to the time she would give birth, Rajberah began hunting for a safe place to use for a den. It needed to be someplace where she could find lots of prey. And it needed to be near water. This rocky cave was just the spot.
For the next month after the cubs were born, the family stayed in the cave. Rajberah nursed her babies most of the day and kept them clean by bathing them with her big, pink tongue. The cubs were born with their eyes closed. But after a few weeks their eyes had opened and they could see clearly. Now that the cubs are old enough to come out of the den, new adventures lie ahead!
OUT AND ABOUT
After the month they spent in the dim den, Nisha and Kumar enjoy hanging out with Rajberah in the sunshine just outside the cave's entrance. Their days still include lots of tongue baths and nursing. But by now the cubs are more active and sleep less than they did when they were younger. That leaves time for the curious cubs to do some exploring—even a chance for little Kumar to climb the outside wall of the cave!
DANGERS TO CUBS
When Nisha and Kumar are about two months old, Rajberah begins taking them on short trips away from the den. The cubs stay close to Rajberah on these trips, scampering to keep up with her. Afterward, they always return to their cave.
Rajberah keeps close to watch over her cubs, ready to fiercely protect them if need be. If she ever feels that her cubs may be unsafe, she will move them to a different den.
Small cubs face a lot of dangers. Predators such as leopards or wild dogs may attack them. A bigger danger is male tigers which will kill any unrelated tiger cubs they find. Sometimes people hunt them illegally. And cubs can also die in forest fires.
Even though it could be dangerous for the cubs, Rajberah has no choice but to leave them sometimes to go hunting. When she does, the cubs stay safely hidden in the cave.
Some of Rajberah's favorite prey animals are wild boars and deer, though she will eat other kinds of animals, too. Even for a good hunter such as Rajberah, hunting is not easy. It could take 10 to 20 tries to catch an animal. To make enough milk for her cubs, Rajberah needs to catch and eat a large animal about every five days.
By now, even though the cubs are still nursing, they are also ready to eat meat. So on some of their trips away from the cave, Rajberah begins leading them to prey that she has killed and hidden. The cubs love their first taste of fresh meat. They lick it. Then they bite it. Then they chow down!
ON THE MOVE
When Kumar and Nisha are about three months old, it's time for a big change. The family leaves the cave for good. Now they sleep out in the open and spend a lot more time roaming around. Nisha and Kumar grow bigger and bigger and bigger! But they still depend on Rajberah for food and protection.
As the cubs grow, one of their favorite things to do is play. They stalk each other and pounce—even in the water! They also chase each other and play wrestle. Almost anything makes a good toy for the cubs, even Rajberah's tail! But all this playing is more than just fun. It's good practice for learning to hunt.
Nisha and Kumar stop nursing when they are about six months old. In the months after that, they join Rajberah on hunting trips to watch her and learn.
The cubs must learn to hunt in order to survive on their own. So for the next year or so, they have "hunting school." At first they just watch as Rajberah hunts. Then, when they get older, Rajberah catches an animal for them and lets them try to kill it.
But the lessons aren't easy. Many times prey animals get away from the inexperienced cubs. And in the cubs' clumsy attempts at catching an animal, they can get hurt by sharp antlers or hooves.
Practice make perfect, though. And by the time Nisha and Kumar are about a year and a half old, they are much better at hunting on their own. Even so, they will stay with Rajberah for another six months or so. By then, Rajberah will be ready to find a mate and start a new family.
Then it will be time for Nisha and Kumar to go their separate ways. After all of Rajberah's lessons, they'll be ready to take care of themselves. And eventually, the time will come for these grown-up cubs to start families of their own.
"Here Come the Cubs!" originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of Ranger Rick magazine. Click here to download a pdf of the article.