‘Young tigers continue to put on muscle until they are about five years old’. Those are the words of Fiona Sunquist in Wild Cats of the World, an excellent and reliable book by her and her husband Mel. They strongly imply that tigers become adults at around five years of age.
This is a prolonged period of growth to adulthood and it happens more often in males than females. Sounds like humans? You know how girls grow up faster than boys. It also sounds a bit like the Maine Coon cat breed which becomes an adult at about four years old.
Females become sexually mature at about three years old. For males it is 3-4 years of age. Males also take longer to acquire breeding territories.
A young female tiger might have her first litter at 3.5-4 years of age as they don’t generally conceive until about six months after becoming sexually mature.
Tigers hold onto territory as long as possible because it allows them to have as many cubs as possible. Some stay in the same territory for several years but others have managed to reside in the same place for upwards of twenty years.
Male cubs learn to kill on their own before females. They test their independence for several days at a stretch when they leave their mother at fifteen months of age. Females stay with their mothers for longer.
Young tigers become independent of their mothers at 17-24 months of age but continue to hunt in the natal range (the territory where they were born).
They disperse (leave and become truly independent) at around 18-28 months of age.
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- Source for the age when tigers become adults: J.L.D. Smith and C. Mc Dougal 1991 The contribution of variance in lifetime reproduction to effective population size in tigers Conserv. Biol. 5: 484-490.
- Source of other information: Wild Cats of the World.
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