Tigress in Bandhavgarh National Park, India with 3 tiny tiger cubs
Tigress with 3 young cubs

She opens one Yellow Quartz-coloured eye and without moving any other part of her body, rolls it lazily across the socket to glimpse a screen-shot of her surroundings.  Yellow Quartz, the gemstone related to the solar plexus chakra; the energy centre located in the stomach which is responsible for confidence, self-esteem and feeling in control of life. Her eyes exactly represent the fearlessness she must display every day of her existence. For she is Rajakumari, a four year old wild Royal Bengal Tiger, lying with her first litter of three cubs.

Wild tigresses care for their cubs for 2 to 3 years after birth. Wild male tigers help feed and protect their young, particularly in the early months, enabling the tigress to spend time hunting.  Globally only half of tiger cubs survive for more than 3 years. 

Rajakumari’s babies are just over three months old and have been eating solid food for over four weeks to supplement their mother’s milk.  When they were born they were blind and weighed less than a third of the weight of an average human baby.  Rajakumari never left them during the first week of their life, having eaten extra food prior to their birth to get her through the early days.  The cubs’ father popped in once at the end of Rajakumari’s fasting period, delivering a very welcome, if small, meal of wild Boar. Now the cubs are the size of puppies and are spending much more time learning to play and tumble around with each other.  The energy they use means they need more and more sustenance, milk and meat, with each day that passes. Food Rajakumari has to provide for them if they are to grow and thrive.

The amount of ‘dad’ time available to a tiger family depends on how many other cubs he is responsible for in his territory and what stage of development those cubs have reached.  Male tiger territories can be 100 square km in size and overlap the territories of many female tigers. 

A Typical Day for Rajakumari

Most of Rajakumari’s time is spent caring for her cubs.  A few days back, when they were sleeping near the river, she did manage to get a lovely refreshing swim.  Tigers love to swim.  There was an added bonus of a few fish and lizards to eat, to supplement her own diet and that of her children.  But many of the human villagers who live close by came to the opposite river bank to wash clothes.  They didn’t throw things to get rid of Rajakumari and her family, which is what used to happen in the past, but tigers generally prefer to keep away from humans unless they are forced, through desperation, to seek domestic animals to survive.

Tigers4Ever delivers Education Programmes that demonstrate how the decline in the tiger population has been mainly caused by humans destroying or fragmenting their natural habitat.  More than 90 percent of historical tiger habitat has disappeared, primarily through expanding human activity. This adversely impacts the environment, tigers and other species, including humans.

Rajakumari must move her cubs to keep them safe

Rajakumari moves the cubs only if she feels their safety might be threatened.  Sensory neurons in Rajakumari’s face can detect the slightest change in air pressure when she passes an object and she is continually looking and smelling for potential danger to her family, as well as for prey to feed them. Tigers have odour detecting cells in the roof of their mouths and in their noses that transmit to the brain’s olfactory region (smelling zone) for scent identification. The tigers’ most dangerous enemy continues to be man who still kills them for medicines that don’t work, to make shocking household decorations that are unnecessary or to sell on to other humans, which is illegal.

Tigers4Ever trains and maintains Anti-Poaching Patrols to combat illegal poaching and retaliatory poisoning. https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/protect-bandhavgarhs-tigers-from-poachers/

The previous day Rajakumari had changed her cubs’ home three times and it had been exhausting. She had, first, picked up the scent of a strange male tiger who might kill her babies while she was away hunting and so she moved them to a new place. 

Male Royal Bengal Tiger emerges from the cover of the bamboo
Adult Male Royal Bengal Tiger

When male tigers first leave their mother they often try to live alone but close by. It is not until around five years old that they are ready to try to establish a territory of their own elsewhere or challenge the local alpha male for theirs.

Then she detected a leopard skulking in the undergrowth who would undoubtedly kill her cubs if it found them alone so another relocation was necessary.  Rajakumari had tried to catch and kill the leopard but it utilised the distance between them to escape up a tree. On this occasion Rajakumari’s ability to sprint at 60kph for short distances wasn’t enough. 

Adult Royal Bengal Tigress Scent Marking a Tree in Bandhavgarh National Park
Adult Royal Bengal Tigress Scent Marking a Tree

Tigers’ ears rotate to detect high frequency sounds made by prey.  Hearing is their most acute sense.

Langurs Sound the Alarm

The final indignity came when a large group of Langur monkeys passing through the trees screeched high above the spot where Rajakumari had been forced to make camp. Their alarm calls gave away the location of Rajakumari and more importantly, her cubs, hence the third move in a single day.

Wild tigers need dense vegetation, the presence of ungulate (hoofed) prey and access to water to survive.

Stretching her long, silken limbs Rajakumari prepares herself to hunt for their next meal. The sun slides lower into the sky, ready to set. Time to settle her babies who were clambering across her while they rough-played and might now be ready to sleep.  Leaving them is always fraught but Dad arrives to keep watch on his cubs while Rajakumari hunts. This is so much easier than taking them with her at their young age.  Her concentration is not totally on the hunt because the cubs are still so vulnerable to other predators. And to keep all three still at the same time is impossible. One or other tends to waive a tail or pop up its head and frighten off the prey Rajakumari is stalking.  The other day she lost a Chital (spotted deer) through an excited cub squeak at the wrong moment and they only got to munch a few flies and dying insects on the route home.

Tigers4Ever construct environmentally friendly waterholes to attract prey so that tigers and other animals don’t venture into human conflict.

By the time the first stars shimmer in the Indian sky Rajakumari has nursed her cubs, cleaned them by licking, which also stimulate their toileting, and calmed them, ready for rest. She glides silently through the undergrowth, leaving her babies in the care of their father, to find food for all of them, and to drink. Her long, sinuous body slides through the forest, her orange and black stripes rippling as she moves gracefully on her journey, perfect camouflage in amongst the night time shadows.

A tiger’s saliva has an antiseptic benefit.

A River flows through the Jungle in Bandhavgarh National Park
A River flows through the Jungle in Bandhavgarh National Park

Apart from a little napping while her cubs fed from her, Rajakumari has not properly slept for more than twenty-four hours. Unsuccessful hunting the previous dusk led into the day of removals just gone. Now Rajakumari is preparing to hunt again as night falls, but maybe she will better success at dawn. She needs success, too. She and her little family have only had an old peacock in the past three days – no more than a snack for one, not a meal for a mother and her babies. It is fortunate the cubs still suckle but if Rajakumari does not get a good meal soon herself, she will stop producing enough milk for all three of them.

Tigers used to roam throughout Asia but are now restricted to just 7% of their range, over thirteen countries.

The following morning, as the first glow of sunlight bathes the newly built water hole, Rajakumari can be seen stalking back into the forest. She is carrying the freshly killed carcass of a Sambar, a large deer that will provide a massive meal for her and her cubs and will satisfy them for another few days. The Sambar is heavy but Rajakumari is strong and powerful so will not relinquish it; it is too precious a resource in an environment where life, the most precious resource, can appear to hold little value.

Madhya Pradesh, where Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve is found, has the largest reserves of diamonds and copper in India but poverty still exists and the mining industry threatens the very forests where wild tigers live.

Another Day and the Cubs are Safe

Rajakumari does not stop her journey until home is clearly in view. Her cubs can smell her closeness and begin to poke their heads through the bush to gain better sight.  Their initial soft welcome noises turn to excited squeals as Rajakumari enters their refuge, proudly dropping her bounty. The cubs are immediately silenced except for crunching and munching sounds as they banquet on the spread before them.  Rajakumari sinks down beside the meat, taking her own fill of food. Tiger Dad waits patiently for the others to have first pick of the mammoth meal before joining them in the feast. Perhaps there will be proper sleep for Rajakumari today. Proper sleep, proper play, proper suckling, proper restoration and recharging are much needed for a young tigress with cubs. Then there will be tomorrow, for however many tomorrows this family is fortunate enough to have.

If you would like to help improve the tomorrows of the wild tiger families in Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, please donate here

The Team at Tigers4Ever will be so very grateful for your support.

Winter Patrolling

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