Tiger Tales: Rajakumari’s Babies: Growing and Learning

Alpha Male Royal Bengal Tiger in Bandhavgarh National Park, India
Abhiraj father of the cubs

Kanvar (meaning prince) snarled menacingly, standing proudly on the body beneath him.  Then he promptly lost his balance and slid bumpily to the ground, landing on top of his brother’s head.  Mum, Rajakumari, watched her three cubs practice stalking around their father, Abhiraj (meaning fearless king).  In son Kanvar’s case, it was more an onslaught of every physical force he possessed.  Dad was patience personified while Kanvar executed his rehearsals to kill but he did swiftly rap his son around the ears when his smallest cub, Kunwar, got pinned underneath his larger brother.

Rajakumari worried about her cubs

Rajakumari worried about the survival of her first litter.  Kunwar (also meaning prince), was the smallest cub when born more than four months ago, but had still not caught up in size.  His sister Ayati (meaning Royal) could easily beat him in a play fight.  Not that Ayati took advantage of that fact the way Kanvar did.  She was the ‘thinker’ of the cubs and applied mind strategies to achieve her aims.  Ayati would do well in life, using her intelligence to drive her actions rather than wading in without thinking things through properly, like bigger brother Kanvar.  Poor little Kunwar was last in everything.  In play fights he was always the loser, in stalking practice, always the prey.  Would all three make adulthood?

Abhiraj and Rajakumari lead the cubs from their den

Abhiraj rose slowly and stretched in a graceful arc, his glossy black stripes rippling above his muscular frame.  In silent understanding Rajakumari stood, too, following him out of their den amongst the long, dense grasses that hid them from prying eyes.  The cubs copied their parents, Ayati instantly understanding what they wanted of her and obeying exactly.  Kanvar continued his stalking practice for a few moments longer, charging his father’s legs until Abhiraj held him with one paw and growled into his face.  Kanvar trotted behind Dad nicely after that, while making sure to push in front of his sister so he was first in the line of cubs.  Kunwar tried to keep up but kept straying into thickets, then squeaking loudly until Rajakumari, bringing up the rear, managed to haul him back again.

After the Monsoon Rains

The air was less humid after the long awaited rains.  At the start of the summer monsoon, the sun-baked earth could not soak up the deluge of water falling.  Violent storms broadcast the advent of downpours with thunderous roars and brilliantly lit skies announcing the imminence of agricultural relief.  Torrents of water briefly reduced humidity but the rivers swelled and burst their banks.  Now, in September, it rained hard most days which was welcome because, on the rare days it stayed dry, the humidity soared again.  The tigers were currently surrounded by lush green forest, water sources were full and the temperature was fractionally cooler.

The family glided imperceptibly through the undergrowth, concealed by their magnificent stripe patterns and by the density of the luxuriant growth around them.  They took a wider than usual path past the river which was flowing so turbulently that it was far too dangerous for the cubs to swim there or even to play at the water’s edge.  Four month old tiger cubs are no match for a monsoon-engorged Indian river.

Further on they found a small pool, temporarily created by the over-spilled river and nearer than the man-made waterhole they usually relied upon.  It looked calm and welcoming.

Playing in waterholes can be fun for young Tiger cubs

Kanvar was first in, pouncing on stones around the shallow edge.  Ayati waited for her mother to complete visual checks of the surrounding area before following her into the cooling waters. Abhiraj stood on the bank performing a 360 degree inspection of the pool and the forest encompassing it.  Finally, with eyes half-closed, he listened for sounds that signalled hazard and sniffed for scents that indicated danger.  Satisfied, he entered the pool himself.  As he slunk into the water, he pushed Kunwar gently with his muzzle.  Gingerly, Kunwar waddled in front of his father, away from the sidelines he often occupied.  By then, Kanvar and Ayati were having a glorious time practising their swimming.  Tigers love taking a dip, they very much enjoy relaxing and gently exercising in water.

Abhiraj and Rajakumari rolled on their backs delighting at the feel of water on their skin.  Cooled and drink-sated, they gently encouraged little Kunwar back and forth between them.  Initially, Kunwar’s legs wobbled about uncontrollably so that he was more mud bed-scrambling than swimming.  At one point, Rajakumari swum away herself to retrieve Kanvar who had paddled into the deepest part of the pool, chasing a small branch that was bobbing away to join the river.  She brought him back to the safety of the shallower water by grabbing him with her teeth at the back of his neck and dragging him. Rajakumari’s mothering instincts continue to be useful as her cubs grow.

For a while they all took pleasure in their own kind of water sport.  Ayati gently swam in the refreshing pool, keeping her eyes peeled and her brain alert for anything interesting.  Kanvar splashed and rolled around, trying to look courageous and impress with his antics.  Abhiraj and Rajakumari continued Kunwar’s swimming lesson for a while, until he seemed able to keep his body afloat sufficiently for them to have a swim, too.  Kunwar looked a little ungainly and it was clear he was having to put all his efforts into remaining afloat.

Kunwar in Danger!

Suddenly Kunwar began splashing uncontrollably.  Both his parents swam quickly towards the torrents of water he pushed into the air.  Ayati moved towards the spot where her little brother appeared to be struggling.  Even Kanvar stopped chasing about showing off.  He doggy-paddled on the spot to watch what was happening. Finally, just before Abhiraj and Rajakumari reached him, little Kunwar bobbed to the surface onto his back in an unusual kind of flop-float movement.  Clutched between his front claws with its middle in his mouth was a fish.  Wow, Kunwar is the first of the three cubs to catch a rare fish meal.  If Rajakumari could smile, she probably would.

Three 4 month old wild tiger cubs drinking at a Tigers4Ever waterhole in Bandhavgarh National Park
Rajakumari’s young cubs drinking at a Tigers4Ever Waterhole

Sadly, not all the dangers faced by young tiger cubs come from their natural surroundings. Humans present the greatest dangers that they will face as they grow via encroachment into their forest homes; laying baited meat to poison them and their parents; or poachers’ snares and traps. Tigers4Ever anti-poaching patrols work hard to keep cubs like Rajakumari’s offspring safe from such dangers. You can read about our work here: https://tigers4ever.org/projects/ or donate to help us keep the 42 tiger cubs, born since the start of the COVID pandemic, and their parents safe here: Saving Bandhavgarh’s Wild Tigers

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