Rajakumari’s Cubs: 6-Month Survival

Wild Tigress hunting prey at full speed in Bandhavgarh National Park
Rajakumari Hunting

Poised motionless, her Yellow Quartz eyes fixed on the herd, Rajakumari prepared for the kill.  A tiny corner of her mind could not ignore the small sounds coming from a little way behind her.  She needed to bag this large beast to properly feed her cubs and herself.  Then she might take some much needed rest.

Rajakumari had not fully rested for three days, since Abhiraj had left.  He had recently had another litter of cubs with a tigress on the other side of his territory.  It was normal for male tigers to spend more time with their smallest and most vulnerable cubs; as he had with Rajakumari’s cubs when they were small. Now Rajakumari’s cubs were growing, Abhiraj devoted the maximum time to his newest litter.  After all, the tiny cubs were the ones in most need of extra care and attention, everytime their mother took a break or needed to hunt.  A tigress, alone, stood little chance of meeting all the feeding and guarding needs of a very young family while maintaining her own survival.   Abhiraj had spent most of his time with Rajakumari immediately after she gave birth to his cubs.  Now those little ones were six months old and much stronger, he needed to give his younger offspring more time and attention plus ensure that his territory is secure.  That is fair and sensible in a wild tiger’s natural world.

Hunting with Young Cubs Close By

Rajakumari forced her concentration back to the task in hand but the noise from the day-hide, where she had left her own three cubs, was becoming too loud to ignore.  She had brought them this close to her hunting ground so they didn’t become the kill of another predator while she was too far away to protect them.  If they were quiet, and watched carefully enough through the undergrowth, they might learn things that could help the development of their own future skills. This was an important early lesson in just how difficult it can be for a wild tiger to find and kill enough prey.

The small herd of Gaur (Indian Bison) started circling to enclose the calf Rajakumari had been watching.  The matriarch of the herd began encouraging movement away from their feeding ground.  The raised communal aggression of the group flowed through the hot air to Rajakumari’s nasal senses.  She couldn’t fight the herd.  Gaur are often described as one of the most dangerous creatures in India.  As with any displaced animal, they will challenge when forced and have been known to kill domestic cattle when food (grazing) is particularly scarce, thus, fuelling the vicious cycle of human-animal conflict with local villagers.

Rajakumari gave a sideways snarl as she slunk back towards the day-hide.  This hunt was ended before it was properly begun.

After the Hunt had Failed

Kanvar, Kunwar and Ayati were pleased their mother had returned.  Kanvar, always a little too impetuous for his own good, beat down the camouflaging scrub to get out to meet her, exposing his sibling’s hiding place in the process.  A tigress’s exasperation with her cubs cannot last long, particularly when their greeting is so enthusiastic.  The chuffs, cheek rubbing and licks she received were heart-warming.  The cubs pushed their heads under her chin in welcome, Kunwar rolled under her, displaying his belly while Kanvar and Ayati lifted their front paws onto her back in greeting.  This, last movement was becoming harder to withstand as the cubs grew larger and stronger so Rajakumari braced herself to receive their show of affection. 

The Cubs are very Hungry

The display was fleeting as it quickly turned to pleas for food.  Rajakumari’s plan to avoid leaving her cubs alone while she made a big-enough kill to satisfy them all had gone badly wrong.  Now she had to decide whether to risk placing them at a distance while she hunted, where they could be in danger of predation themselves, or to hunt lots of small prey close by them and become even more exhausted in the process.

In the past few days she had brought them a couple of Peacocks, a scraggy Dhole (Indian Wild Dog) and a very young Wild Boar but they had also resorted to eating small rodents to supplement their inadequate diet.  The growing tiger cubs needed plenty of protein, as do all carnivores but finding the balance between leaving them longer to feed them well or staying close and working non-stop to bag only small morsels is a mother tiger’s nightmare.

Reducing Human-Animal Conflict

The little troop of tigers walked carefully through the forest in the direction of their local waterhole.  This man-made waterhole had massively impacted on Rajakumari’s life since its completion.  (https://tigers4ever.org/waterholes/) It provides much needed year-round water, to ease the trauma of dried up rivers and pools in hot conditions.  It attracted every kind of animal in the vicinity (and some from further afield) to drink and bathe, making it an ideal hunting ground for apex predators like tigers, thus reducing unwelcome contact and conflict with humans.. 

Rajakumari made camp next to a small, rocky outcrop in the forest.  She settled the tired, hungry cubs and left them protected by a boulderstone, which provided a cave-like overhang, surrounded by deep Sal and Bamboo foliage. 

Another Hunt

Rajakumari stalked alone through the forest until she reached her destination.  Many species were already drinking, prior to settling, in safer areas, for the night which was almost upon them.  Tigers are most active during the day, especially at dawn and dusk when conditions are cooler.  Hunting at night was not Rajakumari’s usual way, it meant that the cubs were vulnerable to attacks by other predators, this was desperation.  She padded lightly to the edge of the undergrowth and studied the array of herbivores in the failing light.  She needed to make her move soon or most would leave and then her only option would be the smaller nocturnal animals, with their advanced night senses and barely making a meal for one.

Suddenly, to the side of her, came a large, old Sloth Bear, moving slowly towards the water hole.  Rajakumari’s movement was instantaneous.  A serendipitous moment had presented itself. The bear hardly knew she was there before she had grasped onto him, he had no time to rear up on two legs or fight back. The resultant kill was swift.

The forest was black-dark, with a few stars in the sky, when Rajakumari arrived back at the makeshift den.  Her hunt and journey took much longer than it should have. Dragging the heavy bear carcass after three days without food had sapped her energy.  The cubs awoke in an instant, and were on the meal immediately as Rajakumari slid gracefully to the ground and began to feed too.  One death, four lives.

Sloth bear in bandhavgarh national park
Sloth Bear

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