Tiger cubs are born blind and helpless ,weighing only 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs).The cub's eyes open after one or two weeks. Initially blue or green the eyes will darken later to glowing amber. On average there are three cubs in a litter though an exceptional seven was once recorded in Ranthambhore National Park. Tigresses are devoted mothers and when the cubs are young she will move them to places of safety carrying them gently one by one in her huge powerful jaws. Cubs are very vulnerable to attack by passing predators and many perish before their first year is out.Jackals, hyenas, leopards and pythons as well as other tigers are all potential threat. The tigress must choose a carefully hidden den and leave the cubs alone for a time as possible while she hunts. Grass fires which are often started deliberately to improve grazing kill many tiger cubs. The cubs remain in the den for four to eight weeks. They then venture into the outside world for the first time and receive their first taste of meat. They keep in single file behind the tigress and it is thought that her striped tail and the large white spots behind her ears act as beacons for the cubs to follow.
The runt of the litter if it has survived to emerge from the den is always the last in the line of the cubs and is often picked off by predators. It is extremely rare that more than two cubs in a litter survive to maturity. The ration of male to female cubs born is about one to one but more females survive into adulthood because the male cubs leave the family earlier and are more likely to perish because of their inexperience at hunting. Males also suffer injuries in territorial disputes and may be more vulnerable to hunters as they are less wary of baits. In contrast with the careful nurturing received by wild tigers cubs born in captivity are usually abandoned or eaten if not immediately removed by the zookeepers. Presumably the unnatural conditions are the root cause of this aberrant behavior. Tiger cubs are playful and their games together begin to teach them the skills necessary for survival. They stalk and pounce on leaves, insects or even their mother's tail.
At first the cubs must hide in the undergrowth while the tigress hunts but later they are allowed to watch and eventually join in. The young can help the tigress by driving the chosen victim towards her. Learning to hunt is a difficult and dangerous process and many cubs are gored or trampled to death. Inexperienced cubs tend to grab the legs of the prey leaving them vulnerable to retaliation. Sometimes the tigress will intervene. She can bring down the prey and then leave it for the cubs to kill. It takes many attempts before the cubs learn to kill efficiently by biting the throat or the nape of the neck. A mother tiger may allow her cubs to feed first. If she joins her young at a meal she will withdraw if a cub protests and will go without meat to ensure that they have enough. The cubs have voracious appetites and by the time they are 14 months old it is a strain for the tigress to capture enough prey. Their lessons learned young tigers must venture out in search of a territory. Male tigers leave their mothers at about 18-22 months old. Sub-adult males are often tolerated by other males but this will change on reaching maturity. Each young male must look for a vacant territory or one where there is a chance of ousting an old or sick male. Females remain with their mothers for 24-28 months and will help in the capture of prey until they leave. The young tigers will become sexually mature at three-four years old and by this time are ready to found the next generation of cubs.
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