In the Tigress’ den
A tiger cub’s life begins in their mother’s den. This location is carefully selected by the pregnant tigress to provide both safety for the tiger cub and ample nearby food for hunting. But to tigers, safety means being hard to see more than anything else. Domes of grass, dense thickets and caves are common places for a den.
Cubs are very dependent at first. They don’t even open their eyes for at least the first week of life. Some baby tigers in captivity were observed to only open its eyes, and look at their surroundings, after 2 and a half weeks! We don’t know if similar examples occur in the wild.
The pregnancy and birth
Because a tigress has to be able to hunt every day, it doesn’t suit them to be pregnant for very long. Like other big cats, tigers pregnancies are very short. A tiger cub is born after a gestation period of less than 15 weeks, or 103 days on average.
Tiger cubs are born small and helpless. They might weigh between 2 and 4 pounds (around 1-2 kg). But they grow rapidly. By the time a tiger becomes an adult, they weigh 150 times their birth-weight. Compared to humans who grow around 15 times from birth to adulthood, this is extraordinary.
Fortunately and unfortunately, a tiger births many cubs at once. They can have up to seven cubs at once, but the average is closer to 2 or 3.
The bad news is there is a really high mortality rate for young tiger cubs. Studies have indicated that mortality could be as high as 43 percent and E. coli infections may be a factor. It’s difficult to know about mortality in cubs in the wild because the baby tigers are tucked away in their dens. While it’s not exactly common, another factor is that competing male tigers might kill the offspring of another male tiger. This could allow them the opportunity to be able to father cubs with the tigress, who would otherwise not breed again for years.
Does a tiger Cub hunt?
In the wild it is hard to know when a tiger cub will go on its first hunt. The tiger den is so hidden we won’t know when a cub emerges from it for the first time. We do know that it varies by both location and circumstances, and family.
From birth a tiger cub will stay in their den and nurse for up to 2 months. They’ll have grown their milk teeth after a month but won’t venture out. It is actually a point of controversy whether a tiger will regurgitate meat for their cubs in the wild.
Siberian tiger cub
In captivity a siberian tiger cub is known for eating meat relatively late. Captive siberian cubs will only eat meat for the first time at around 10 weeks.
Bengal tiger cub
Bengal tiger cubs might eat meat as early as six to eight weeks.
But in the wild all tigers can’t hunt for themselves until they’re about a year and a half old. They need adult canines to grow in to e able to hunt. This happens at around 16 months of age. But they still need to practice to learn to use them.
A tigress will often stay with her cubs until they are around two or two and a half years old, so there isn’t too much of a rush.
The awkward years (or transient stage)
At around 2 and a half years old a tiger cub will be chased away. This may happen from male tigers who want to breed with the tigress or from the mother tiger herself if she’s already had another litter. The cubs will be on their own at this point. This stage is referred to as the transient stage.
The transient stage is one of the most dangerous points in a tiger’s life. The risks are high and the protection of mother tiger has gone away. Only about 6 or 7 out of 10 tigers will survive the year. The annual mortality rate of 30-35 percent is much higher than that of breeding females (5 percent) or breeding male tigers (15 percent).
Risks include poisoning from farmers, becoming victim to poachers, or other tigers. The risk of coming across humans are the highest at this point in the tiger’s life. This is because they have to venture out to avoid other tigers’ habitats.
Transient tigers tend to survive by learning to become invisible, much like the den they were born into. After about a year for some females and two years for males, the tiger cub will fully mature and establish their own territory.