PART 1 Tiger School – Nature and Nurture

by Julian Matthews

‘Tiger School’ is a five part series by the editor about how tiger cubs learn the art of survival in the wild. 

Part 1 – Introduction

A mother's bond is the key to a cub's survival (c) Kay Hassall Tiwari
A mother’s bond is the key to a cub’s survival (c) Kay Hassall Tiwari

When that great teller of Indian tales, Rudyard Kipling, described the cat as “…the wildest of all the wild animals … He walked by himself, and all places were alike to him.”, he could well have been describing the adult male tiger. But, tigers do not begin life like this. The cubs are sociable and loving animals which need the bond with their mother and hopefully their siblings – although sadly this is not always possible – to learn how to become self-sufficient adults and walk alone successfully.

Because this independence is the key to tiger longevity, it is vital that the cubs have a good life-skill teacher to get them started.  Of course, tiger cubs already come with fantastic inherited skills such as massive canine teeth and retractable claws that enable them to protect themselves or kill their prey.  The famous striped markings provide camouflage and there are a panoply of lesser-known capacities such as the flehmen reflex that enables them to savour smells which will enable them to read the gender, age, size and physical condition of the markings made by other tigers.

Cubs also watch their mother scent-mark and scratch her way through her territory keeping predators at bay and letting adult males know when she is in season.

The most important skill in the tiger’s repertoire, however, is its ability to hunt and kill efficiently.  This is what they are noted for and their levels of effectiveness are a direct result of having been exposed to this behaviour by their mothers since they were cubs.

Sibling bonds are also very important in nurturing tiger behaviour (c) Kim Sullivan
Sibling bonds are also very important in nurturing tiger behaviour (c) Kim Sullivan

The mother bonding with her cubs is the single most important thing in their lives and from this all other life lessons spring. Indeed the tigress will not leave her young for the first seven to ten days of their lives. They are blind and utterly helpless so feeding with milk and letting the blind infants learn her sounds and  smells are vital for their knowledge of who she is and for their later survival.

Enjoyed this. The next four parts of ‘Tiger school’ will be published over the next four weeks.

Credits: Tiger Nation


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