Picture of a tigress and her cubs

This is a great picture of a tigress and her three cubs. I believe it was taken by Swetha Kumar. I am not sure where it was taken but it was probably in India or Bangladesh because I am fairly confident that they are Bengal tigers. I wonder how old the cubs are? At six-months-of-age male tiger cubs weigh 92 to 105 pounds whereas females are about 30 pounds lighter. These clubs look as if they weigh over one hundred pounds, perhaps about 150 pounds and therefore I would estimate them to be older than 6-months-of-age and perhaps around 10 to 12 months. At 12 to 18-months-of-age tigers get their permanent canine teeth and gain weight rapidly becoming physically equipped to kill prey on their own. Although they have to refine their hunting techniques.

Tigress and her cubs drinking
Tigress and her cubs drinking. Photo: Swetha Kumar. If you click on the photo you are taken to a larger version.
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They learn to hunt and kill by imitation and practice. If a cub lacks their permanent canine teeth (and because they are inexperienced) they are even unable to kill a tethered buffalo.

Highlighting the inexperience of tiger cubs in killing

A scientist, George Schaller, describes a scene he witnessed in Kanha National Park1. It concerns a tethered buffalo. It sounds cruel to me but times have changed as this event took place perhaps in the 1960s (G.B. Schaller – The deer and the tiger published by Chicago University Press – 1967).

A tigress was teaching her three-year-old cubs how to kill. There was a tethered buffalo which kept the three cubs at bay for 2 1/2 hours. The tigress arrived and knocked the buffalo to the ground. Her cubs lept onto it biting at the animal and clawing at it randomly. Their mother released her grip and stepped back. The buffalo shook off the cubs and struggled to its feet with superficial wounds. The cubs tried again without success. Their mother intervened again and knocked the animal to the ground. Once again the cubs swarmed over the buffalo biting and clawing. The buffalo once again rose to her feet. The buffalo was finally killed but it took a long time. Schaller observed that the cubs were reasonably adept at pulling down the buffalo but they failed to kill efficiently. They clawed and bit around the rump, back and belly rather than grasping the throat (suffocation bite).

Male cubs become independent sooner than females and learn to kill alone. By 15-months-of-age males often leave their mother for several days at a time while testing their independence. Females develop more slowly and stay with their mother for longer. At around 17 to 24 months-of-age tigers become independent of their mothers. But they hunt in their natal range. It allows them to hone their hunting skills because they’re in a familiar area. They move independently within their mother’s range for a few months then eventually disburse usually when they are 18 to 28 months of age.

Note 1: Kanha National Park is one of the tiger reserves of India and the largest national park of the state of Madhya Pradesh.

Note 2: Source: Wild Cats Of The World ISBN: 0-226-77999-8 (cloth).

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