Wildlife enthusiasts may have finally found an answer to the longstanding question - do male big cats rear their cubs whose mothers have died? Pictures taken at the Ranthambore National Park on Saturday evening by wildlife conservator and photographer Balendu Singh, show that the male tigers do double up as mothers for their cubs.
"These are pictures of the T25 tiger looking after the two cubs that he fathered," said tiger expert Valmik Thapar, as he announced to enthralled audience at the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) that this doubtful behaviour of the wild cats now stood confirmed in the Ranthambore forests. "This was unheard of in the tiger literature of the world. Only the female tigers were known to raise the cubs, but T25 has shown that the males also do it," Thapar asserted.
Until now the tiger was suspected to be playing a 'doting dad' to the two cubs after their mother died in February 2011. The state wildlife authorities, too, had been keeping a watch on the tiger and the orphaned cubs since June 2011 when first indications were picked up that T25 could be doubling up as mother.
Thapar and Jaisal Singh, another wildlife enthusiast and avid photographer, took the audiences at the JLF session on "Tiger Tales from Ranthambore" on a video and pictorial journey to the Ranthambore of 1970s and 1980s when the reserve area boasted of greater number of tigers. "It was a time when I spotted as many as 16 different tigers in a single day at Ranthambore," said Thapar, recounting from the 1980s, while former chief minister Vansundhra Raje, theatre and film actor Sanjana Kapoor and the Bhutan queen Jetsun Pema Wangchuk listened among the audiences. Thapar highlighted how the Ranthambore tigers stopped shying away from humans and roamed around freely once 12 villages within the national park were relocated between 1976 and 1979. "Tigers are emotional and react to situations," Thapar said, as he explained the changed behaviour of the tigers.
The wildlife expert lashed out at the state governments, especially the bureaucrats, for having a rigid attitude and carrying on with the "British traditions" in wildlife matters. "The conditions have come to a level where the governments and NGOs now live in a world of mutual distrust and where the tiger is the sufferer ultimately," Thapar said on a passionate note. Raje, though, later tried to explain the political and financial constraints of the governments on such issues.