Protective and devoted, the tigress takes sole charge of caring for and educating her young. The male is present only in the mating phase, although it sometimes shares its prey with other females and their offspring.
After a gestation period of 95 to 107 days, the tigress delivers between one and six cubs (two or three on average) in an isolated area. The young are born blind and remain so for between 6 and 14 days. Cubs follow their mother’s body heat to find and suckle her milk. The mother only accepts the cubs who manage to do this; the others are considered as stillbirths and are soon abandoned.
Fed on their mother’s milk for eight months, the cubs only have their first taste of meat when they are between 40 and 60 days old. They start by licking, then biting the prey deposited by their mother outside the den. Indeed, the tigress ensures a clean environment for her litter, by allowing no food or manure within their shelter. Furthermore, she regularly cleans her cubs by licking them, which has beneficial effects on their health.
At three months old, the young tigers can stay alone for several days, waiting for their mother to return from hunting, at which time they are always the first to eat. They stay close to their mother until the age of 18 to 36 months, in order to learn to hunt ̶ a fundamental education that starts between five and six months of age.
The males leave their mother first and the sibling group separates definitively as soon as the tigress can mate again. It is possible for the young females to establish their territories near to that of their mother, where they are sometimes tolerated. In turn, the young adults reproduce at around three years old for the females and six for the males. Their lifespan in the wild is about 15 years.
It is not easy to observe tigers and their habits in natural environments, mainly because they move over large distances during the night and because it is difficult to track them in the forest or the savannah. Our Indian partner organisation, Aaranyak, studies them using an automated photography system, amongst other methods. Cameras with captors are put in the forest and enable the organisation to collect pictures and short videos. These images supply a lot of data, which is used to learn more about the feline and its behaviour.