Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Best Tiger Dad in Ranthambhore

*The following blogpost is a repost from "Sanctuary Magazine" from April 2012 with permission from author, Balendu Singh. The original post can be seen at Balendu is a very close friend of Tigers for Tigers, and we greatly appreciate this guest blogpost! 

A second-time mother, the Kachida Tigress, identified by park authorities as T5 (Tiger Five) had earlier raised three cubs to full maturity in the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve between 2007 and 2010.  It was an extraordinarily long period, four years, for cubs and mothers to live as a unit. Normally, young ones separate from their mother soon after they are 24 months old, females a touch later.

T5 with both her cubs in Kachida on January 29, 2011. – Credit:Balendu Singh
(C) Balendu Singh
T5 was always a star. An accomplished tigress, she had taught her off-spring well and the tourists loved her for her confident ways that saw her stay at a respectful distance, yet remain comfortable in full sight of vehicles and park staff.

I found the Kachida Tigress in the water pooled behind the Dhakara anicut on January 29, 2011. Soon, the first one, then the second small healthy cub came scampering down to the water’s edge calling for the mother. Blood on the mouth and paws of the cubs confirmed that they had eaten meat from a fresh kill.

Two weeks later T5 came within 50 m. of the Kachida chowki (guard post) and was heard roaring almost through the night. In the morning, the forest guards found her dead under a gum tree. The post mortem confirmed she died of internal haemorrhaging as a result of a blocked intestine.

A frantic search for the now-orphaned cubs ensued. It took forest guards four full days to track them down on the hillside just above Kachida chowki. Park authorities asked for water and small pieces of meat to be put out for the cubs and guards were placed on duty 24x7 to observe and protect the cubs. Experts all opined that the cubs would not survive beyond a few days without protection. As the debate of lifting them and transporting them to a zoo unfolded, the cubs had other plans. They continued to survive!

Meanwhile the feeding and monitoring of the cubs by the field staff of the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve continued. Occasionally the cubs would go missing for a few days causing great consternation for the monitoring team. But they would then return to the feeding area to everyone’s relief.

Then in May 2011, a series of camera trap pictures revealed a most astonishing fact. A large male tiger was captured on camera, walking with the cubs some five kilometres from their den.
The first ever camera trap image of T25, also known as Zalim, with one of the cubs, at Jhokha, three kilometres from Kachida  chowki. – Courtesy:Y.K. Sahu, DFO, Ranthambore National Park

This was interpreted as a male on a territorial walk with the small orphaned cubs. Nothing like this has ever been recorded before, anywhere in the world. A camera trap image was made available to us by Y. K. Sahu, Divisional Forest Officer of the Ranthambhore National Park.

For the very first time a male was observed patrolling his territory along with motherless cubs, presumed to have been sired by him. Amazingly, when the male settled into a waterhole, one of the cubs actually came up to him and nuzzled him. I have scoured the records and have not found any such behaviour reported in the voluminous writings on the tiger across the world. What Ranthambhore has demonstrated beyond doubt is that male tigers can play a role in caring for offspring sired by them, a task we had presumed could only be undertaken by their mother.

Of course more observation is required before coming to any long term conclusions, but we have been monitoring the behaviour of the male and the two cubs since May 2011. The adult male is actually hunting and allowing the cubs to eat from his kill, not merely protecting them from other tigers. Often I have seen the cub nuzzle a sleeping Zalim who would lift his paw and ‘pat’ the cub down near him, in the manner of tigress mothers. On one occasion I saw Zalim come out from the bush, cub in tow patrolling his territory, spray-marking trees, rolling in the scent left by him and sniffing at other tigers’ scent markings.

Sanjeev Sharma, a Forest Ranger, saw Zalim kill a  buffalo on February 1, 2012. Soon after, the cub were seen feeding on the kill. The cubs then united to kill a goat without any help from the male. By any measure all this is  never-before-seen behaviour.

At the time of writing the cubs are alive and well and history is being well and truly rewritten by these amazing tigers of Ranthambhore. But this does not mean the two cubs are out of danger yet. The worry is that a new female, coming to this prime habitat, which is devoid of a breeding female, may well alter the behaviour of the male towards the cubs he has been looking after. Will he stop protecting them? Will a new female or a transient male get to them?

On March 16, 2012, Zalim was with a cub at one of their favourite waterholes. While we watched the two in the water, we heard a langur monkey put out a series of alarm calls behind us. Zalim and the cub purposefully moved away from the waterhole. Moments later we watched in awe as T17, a tigress in her prime called Sundari, settled into the water oblivious of the presence of the male and the cub nearby.

With bated breath, we watched as the cub got up and wandered away from the male. Sundari was following his every move and then went into a stalking mode staring straight at the lone cub. An attack was imminent. Just then, however, Zalim moved menacingly towards the tigress that instantly assumed a submissive posture, backed away and began to look for a way out of her predicament. Zalim in the meanwhile moved right towards the cowering female with an impressive show of vocalisation. At this the cub took off in fright in the opposite direction. The male stood his ground for a while, staring at the female, daring her to make the first move, then, slowly walked away in the direction the cub had disappeared.

On March 22, the male with both cubs was seen polishing off a nilgai they had brought down together. I believe this story will end well.

UPDATE: The two Tigresses have matured well and were relocated to Sariska National Park, 120 Miles North of Ranthambhore in 2013. They are doing well and have cubs of their own.

Written By:
Balendu Singh, Honorary Wildlife Warden, Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve
Yogesh K. Sahu, Divisional Forest Officer, Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve