With the news of so many new cubs in Ranthambhore, in this post we bring you an extract from a book authored by two great ‘tiger-walas’ of Ranthambhore – Fateh Singh Rathore and Valmik Thapar. Read about their experience of a large male tiger and his role in the upbringing of cubs from their book Tigers : The Secret Life published in 1989.
“May and June are the months when the heat is most intense and many water holes dry up. Tigers remain close to water, moving from one water hole to another. So do all the deer and antelope. Till early June Kublai and the Bakaula male were found in frequent contact with the families in their range. Every few days their pugmarks were found together and there was evidence to suggest that both resident males were interacting with the families, particularly over food. The tigresses and cubs would join their respective resident males on a kill, or the male would invite himself to their kills. In between, the resident male would go off to patrol their ranges. There was no question, then, of the male tiger practising infanticide. We did not know what happened in the first two months of the cubs’ life, but we now had evidence that in the course of the next few months the male took an active part in providing food for the cubs and their mother, and therefore had a vital role to play in raising the family. The tigress does most of the hunting, as she spends all her time with the cubs. The resident males patrol their home ranges, but when they are with the tigress and cubs, they can hunt or assist in a hunt. Of course they still need to eat themselves, but they are conscious of the demands of the cubs.
But this contradicts reports from all over India of male tigers killing and devouring their cubs. Why did this happen? Was Ranthambhore different in some way? We had posed ourselves a series of questions for which we would one day have to find some answers. I was convinced that as far as both these families were concerned, the resident male had fathered the litter and we had seen him in the role of father to the family.
At dusk on 5th July we left Kublai in the company of the Nalghati family. The next morning dark clouds loomed. The rains were coming. Soon the vehicle tracks would be obliterated and our work would have to stop. Moving off, we suddenly encountered Kublai and Noon sitting together a short distance from where her cubs must have been. Kublai had walked about six kilometres through the night and was now consorting with the second family in his range. Again I was convinced he had fathered this litter as well. He was moving from one family to another, patrolling his range. I spent some time theorising about the male tiger, his role as father and why infanticide occurs, when it does. My conclusion is this. A resident male can father several litters in his range. He performs the role of father to all of them, sharing his food and sometimes feasting on theirs. A problem only arises when the resident male is usurped from his range by a new male in a territorial encounter.”
Written by Valmik Thapar
Photographs from Tigers : The Secret Life
Stay tuned as we link this to the present day males and their roles in the lives of cubs at Ranthambhore in the next post.