Do male tigers kill their own cubs?

The question is specific and precise. It asks whether male tigers kill their offspring. The word that describes this is ‘filicide’. It describes the behaviour of animals and humans when they kill their offspring. The umbrella word for adults killing infants is “infanticide”. But infanticide can apply to a parents of one family killing a cub of another family.

The Internet does not provide any good answer on this that I have found (wrong? – please correct me in a comment). Indeed, Google gets a bit confused because it tends to find information about lions and we know that male lions commit infanticide. You can read about this by clicking this link. But what about tigers? I have the best book on tigers that you can get. It does not specifically refer to male tigers killing their own cubs.

Tiger at kill site where young cubs are vulnerable to being killed by males
Tiger at kill site where young cubs are vulnerable to being killed by males. There are records of it happening but how often? Image: MikeB

However, it does refer to tigers occasionally committing infanticide but not necessarily of their own cubs. When tigers eat carcass of an animal that they have killed there is competition to “sit at the table”. I will quote my reference source: “There are records of males killing cubs, and some of these instances of infanticide occurred at kills”. As I said it doesn’t specify whether the males kill their own cubs or the cubs of another family. I will presume that occasionally a male lion will kill their own cubs under these circumstances without being told more. So the question in the title can be answered in the positive.

Clearly cubs are vulnerable at the site of animals that have been killed and are being eaten. This is why females are reluctant to go to tethered buffaloes which have been put in place to attract tigers to please the tourists in tiger reserves. However, if the young are older and less vulnerable, but still dependent, she might be attracted to a buffalo under these circumstances because she has to eat 50% more than normal in order to feed herself and her offspring. She needs to take risks.

What about female tigers? There is a story online about a zoo in Israel in which a female Sumatran tiger killed her two cubs. It is thought that she did this because she was stressed. The zookeepers were very surprised and distressed. It is said – although I can’t find out information to verify this – that female tigers can sometimes kill their young under certain extreme conditions such as stress, hunger and so on. The same can be said about female domestic cats.

Wikipedia says that tigers are one of the species known to commit infanticide. They provide a link to a full page on the tiger but in that page there is no reference to infanticide. As mentioned above, tigers do occasionally commit infanticide but it might not necessarily be filicide. And that is important in terms of answering the question in the title.


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