The male tiger only serves as a protector but in this case, the father is taking on parental care duties in the absence of the mother.
In tigers, it's always the mother who provides parental care. It can take up to two years before cubs can hunt by themselves. It's the mother who hunts and shares the catch with the cubs while teaching them hunting and survival skills through the two years. Naturally, the authorities of the Panna Tiger Reserve in India became concerned after a tigress died at the reserve in May earlier this year. It was earlier noted that she had four cubs and they were 8-months-old. These cubs were now potentially in danger, considering they didn't have the necessary hunting or survival skills to make it in the wild. The male tiger only acts as a protector of the cubs and doesn't provide any parental care but the reserve officials were shocked to see the cubs' father sharing food with them and teaching them necessary skills, reported Mongabay.
The reserve officials tracked the cubs and were stunned to find the male tiger staying within close proximity of the cubs and spending time with them. This was unlike male tigers and the officials set up camera traps to monitor the rare behavior of the male tiger, named P243, and to check if it would continue giving parental care to the cubs. One of the cameras caught the tiger hunting a sambar and sharing the catch with the four cubs. He was also noted trying to communicate with the cubs. The officials found the cubs to be healthy, active, and neither hungry nor stressed. “The tiger visits these cubs regularly, and his behavior shows that he is not a threat to the cubs. We have seen the cubs playing with the male tiger and sharing kills,” said Panna Tiger Reserve director Uttam Sharma. Panna Tiger Reserve is a critical tiger habitat located in Madhya Pradesh, India.
P243, the male tiger appeared to share a close with its mate, P213-32. A report released by the Panna Tiger Reserve administration said that P243 had been with his mate for two years and was not seen with any other tigress. “He was also seen at the cremation site of the tigress within an hour of the cremation on the evening of May 15,” said the report. “The next day on May 16, he was found sitting for long hours at the place where P213-32 died.” The reserve officials said the father tiger's behavior bodes well for the cubs.
“Cubs are found to be eight months old, which means they have not learned to hunt yet. And before the death of their mother P213-32, all had started eating kills with the mother, but they are not seen hunting any live prey till now,” said Sharma. Wildlife experts believe it can be extremely hard for cubs to survive if their mother has passed away within a year of them being born. “A tiger needs to be around two years of age to be able to hunt independently,” said Mridul Pathak, a retired forest officer who has served as the field director of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. “Cubs can go for easy prey before that, under the guidance of tigress.”
Tigers try to hunt on their own once they are 12-13 months old and parental care from P243 will be crucial for the cubs. “Though they have natural instincts, it is possible that they learn to hunt on their own, but they will have a tough time learning the skills without their mother,” said Sharma. “If they gain weight, and grow up to be strong, it is likely that they may learn to prey by themselves in the next few months.” The officials had initially planned to intervene and provide food for the cubs but it appears there is no need for that thanks to their father breaking the stereotype, and taking over parental care duties.