The Life Cycle of Tigers: A Fascinating Journey in the
Photo by JoachimMarianWinkler on Pixabay
Tigers, majestic and powerful creatures, have captivated our imagination for centuries. The life cycle of a tiger is a
remarkable journey that begins with birth and ends with the establishment of their own territories. In this article, we
will explore the stages of a tiger’s life, from birth and upbringing to reproduction and the challenges they face in the
wild. Join us as we delve into the fascinating world of these magnificent big cats.
Birth and Upbringing
Early Days of Cubs
When a tigress gives birth to a litter of cubs, they are blind and completely dependent on their mother. For the first six
to fourteen days, a membrane covers their eyes, rendering them vulnerable and unable to see the world around them.
During this time, their eyes gradually change color from blue to a dark golden hue as they grow. Cubs are also unable
to walk and are naked, weighing between 750 and 1,600 grams at birth.
Within minutes of their birth, the tigress frees the cubs from the umbilical cord and carefully cleans them. The warmth
of their mother’s body attracts the blind newborns, and they instinctively grope for her teats to nurse. Breastfeeding
begins within the first few hours and continues for the first three days, during which 70% of the day is dedicated to
suckling. As the days progress, the percentage of time spent on suckling decreases, with the cubs becoming almost fully
weaned by 90 days.
The Tigress’s Role in Upbringing
The tigress plays a crucial role in raising her cubs, while the male tiger is rarely involved in the upbringing process. The
tigress does not allow her cubs to touch meat until they are around forty days old. Instead, she encourages them to lick
and chew on it, gradually introducing them to a carnivorous diet. By the time the cubs are eight months old, they are
To protect her cubs, the tigress frequently moves them from one den to another, ensuring their safety from potential
predators. While the den remains clean, with no meat allowed inside, the tigress brings prey to the den to consume
while keeping a watchful eye on her offspring. She also licks the cubs constantly, not only to keep them clean but also
to improve blood flow and the functioning of their intestines.
Learning to Hunt
As the cubs grow older, they begin to play, which helps them reinforce their reflexes and develop the skills they will
need for hunting. However, they do not taste meat until they are forty days old. At around three months, the tigress
starts leaving her cubs alone in the den for several days while she goes out to hunt. She then brings them to the carcass
of the animal she has killed, allowing them to learn by observation and participation.
Unlike young lions, young tigers eat before their mothers. Even when hungry, the tigress willingly lets her litter eat
first. She is highly protective of her cubs, eliminating or avoiding any potential danger, including male tigers, which
could pose a threat to her offspring. The cubs stay with their mother to learn how to hunt until they are around
eighteen to twenty-eight months old. During this time, they observe and imitate their mother’s hunting techniques,
gradually becoming proficient hunters themselves.
Reactive Reproductive Strategy
The reproductive strategy of tigers is reactive, allowing for flexibility in population dynamics in response to
environmental conditions. Tigers follow an r-type reproductive strategy, characterized by the birth of many cubs, but
only a few surviving into adulthood. This strategy is similar to that of rodents and small mammals, enabling tigers to
quickly recover their populations even after significant losses.
While tigers exhibit an r-type reproductive strategy, they differ from typical r-type species due to their large size and
the extended period required for growth and learning to hunt. The survival of tiger cubs depends heavily on the support
and guidance of their mothers during the early stages of their lives.
Tigers reach sexual maturity at different ages depending on their gender. Males typically reach sexual maturity
between three to six years of age, while females reach maturity at around three years. The breeding season can occur
at various times throughout the year, with peak mating periods differing based on geographical location.
During the breeding season, tigresses exhibit specific behaviors to signal their readiness to mate. They vocalize through
repeated moaning and roaring, accompanied by increased scent marking. When a female encounters an unfamiliar
male, their initial interactions are characterized by distance and growling. However, they gradually move closer
together until they touch moustaches, engaging in physical contact and rubbing against each other.
When the female is ready to mate, she adopts a lying-down position known as lordosis. The male mounts her in a halfcrouched
position that does not harm her. During ejaculation, the male holds the folds of skin at the back of the
female’s neck. This position, while potentially dangerous, ensures correct positioning during ejaculation.
Pregnancy and Parturition
After successful mating, the tigress undergoes a gestation period, which typically lasts between 93 and 114 days. The
average gestation period is around 103 days, during which the tigress remains largely inconspicuous, making
pregnancy difficult to detect. It is only in the final days before birth that her belly becomes noticeably swollen.
The number of cubs in a litter varies, with tigresses giving birth to one to seven cubs. However, the average litter size is
two to three cubs. The birth of seven cubs in a litter has only been observed in captivity, with wild populations usually
having smaller litters. The tigress seeks an isolated place, such as a cave or an area under rocks or dense forest cover,
to give birth.
Parturition can last from one hour to eighteen hours, depending on the number of cubs and the stress level of the
tigress. The mother licks her vulva and contracts her hindquarters, facilitating the birth process. Cubs are born one at a
time, with intervals of 10 to 20 minutes between each birth. The tigress consumes the umbilical cord, amnion, and
placenta, providing her with essential nutrients.
Challenges and Mortality
The life of a tiger cub is challenging, with high mortality rates during the first year of life. Factors such as floods, fires,
and infanticide contribute to the loss of entire litters. Infanticide, primarily by males seeking to establish their territory,
is the leading cause of death for tiger cubs under one year old.
Survival rates are greatly influenced by the experience of the tigress and the stability of the territory where the cubs
are born. A territory maintained for several years by the same male offers better chances of survival. Tigers that have
recently left their mothers are vulnerable to starvation, aggression from conspecifics, and hunting injuries.
In the wild, the average lifespan of a tiger is estimated to be 8-10 years, with some individuals living up to 15.5 years.
Tigers in captivity have a longer lifespan, with an average of 26 years. However, tigers can no longer reproduce after
the age of fourteen. The challenges and risks faced by tigers throughout their life cycle highlight the importance of
conservation efforts to ensure their survival in the wild.
The life cycle of a tiger is a remarkable journey that begins with the blind vulnerability of cubs and ends with the
establishment of their own territories. From birth and upbringing to reproduction and the challenges they face in the
wild, tigers exhibit incredible adaptability and resilience. Understanding the intricacies of their life cycle is crucial for
conservation efforts aimed at protecting these magnificent big cats for future generations to admire and cherish. Let us
continue to appreciate and safeguard these majestic creatures, the guardians of the wild.