The animal kingdom has its own rhythms and rituals — part of what makes it so fascinating to observe is its ever-evolving combination of reliability and unpredictability. Just as we think we’ve got a species or area all figured out, nature throws us a curveball.
A recent example of this happened in Madhya Pradesh, India, where a tiger was seen taking care of his cubs and sharing food with them after the death of their mother.
Normally, male tigers stick to protecting their territory from outsiders and hunt for themselves, as mothers teach their cubs how to hunt and thrive in the wild.
This rare example of a male tiger stepping into the parenting role has researchers taking a closer look at how cubs learn, and what this could mean for future conservation efforts.
Madhya Pradesh is known as “The Tiger State” due to its high population of the endangered feline. It’s also home to more than 340 square miles of wilderness that nearly 50 tigers call home — the Panna Tiger Reserve.
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In June of 2021, PTR team members saw a male tiger, named P243, kill a cow but leave the carcass untouched, clearly protecting it. This unusual behavior prompted them to look deeper. They found that he’d done the same thing in May, hunting a sambar and then sharing the corpse with his cubs. While they had little information on the male or his cubs, they were able to find that his mate, whom they’d named Tigress P213-32, had died in mid-May of unknown causes.
“P243 had been with P213-32 for more than two years,” PTR noted in a statement shared by Mongabay India. “He was not seen with any other tigress. He was also seen at the cremation site of P213-32 within an hour of the cremation on the evening of May 15. The next day on May 16, he was found sitting for long hours at the place where P213-32 died. The cubs were also assumed to be located in and around that place.”
Mourning is a behavior that researchers have come to notice in many species, especially recently, as we come to know more about how they perceive the world.
“After the death of the tigress, we located these cubs and placed camera traps in the area. We found that the tiger visits these cubs regularly, and his behaviour shows that he is not a threat to the cubs. We have seen the cubs playing with the male tiger and sharing kills,” noted PTR field director U.K. Sharma. PTR is keeping a close eye on the situation because cubs need to develop hunting skills quickly to survive in the wild. They’ve placed a tracking camera on P243 to gather more information on this unusual behavior.
Madhya Pradesh has long been a target of poachers, who sell the meat, teeth, bones, and hides of tigers on the black market.
While we can’t know for sure, it seems that P243 was deeply affected by the loss of his mate, P213-32. Fortunately, he is now working to make sure that their cubs don’t suffer a similar fate and stay safe and sound.Whizzco