Tigers : The Secret Life

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.

Kublai, the resident male of the lake area and the Nalghati valley cools off in Rajbagh Lake. circa 1989.
Kublai, the resident male of the lake area and the Nalghati valley cools off in Rajbagh Lake. circa 1989.

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.

This is probably one of the rarest pictures from the book. Kublai, the Nalghati tigress and her two cubs all share a tiny pool of water, cooling off on a hot May evening. After Nalghati left the pool, Kublai spent nearly an hour playing with the cubs.
This is probably one of the rarest pictures from the book. Kublai, the Nalghati tigress and her two cubs all share a tiny pool of water, cooling off on a hot May evening. After Nalghati left the pool, Kublai spent nearly an hour playing with the cubs.

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.

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