Tiger cubs are increasingly becoming the casualties in the tussle for space or mating among adult royal cats in many overpopulated tiger reserves across the country.
According to the data available from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) under the Union Environment Ministry, at least 22 cubs have died across the tiger reserves till date this year compared to 23 last year. With three months to go for 2023, the mortality number is likely to surpass last year’s. In 2021, 15 cubs had succumbed to various reasons, as per the NTCA data.
Wildlife officials say that the reserves which have reported higher numbers of royal cats have recorded an increase in cub deaths. For instance, Madhya Pradesh has witnessed the death of 13 cubs, highest in any State of the country followed by Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.
Wildlife experts say that the territorial fight is a natural phenomenon in the areas with a high density of tigers. Sometimes when there is less number of females, males compete with each other to win over the female cat in their territory for mating. At times, they target the new tigress mothers. As a result, cubs are forced to disperse at a very young age which makes them prone to death.
For instance, recently four tiger cubs starved to death in the reserve forest at Kadanad, in the Chinnacoonoor area in Mudumalai Tiger reserve area after their mother abandoned them, as per forest officials.
In yet another instance, a tiger cub was found dead in the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve (BTR) in Madhya Pradesh in April. The forest officials had suspected territorial fight as the reason behind the feline’s death as the cub’s carcass was found near Jutta pond in BTR’s Panpatha buffer area, Forest Range Officer SS Shrivastava said, according to reports.
Similarly, in February, a weak cub died of cold amid rain after its mother was killed in a territorial fight at Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan’s Sawai Madhopur. The reserve has witnessed a 45 per cent increase in the big cat population over the last eight years with officials expressing concerns about a lack of adequate space for the big cats to mark their territory.
Moreover, serious imbalance in tigers’ gender ratio results in the spurt of the big cat population, forcing many of them to either leave the park or die in fighting over territories and females. In these fights, cubs also get injured by the tigers who have not sired them.
Wildlife officials cited the case of Corbett Tiger Reserve, where over a dozen adult tigers aged between three to five have no territory, i.e. they have been moving in the reserve’s periphery, in the process, leaving the cubs vulnerable to other carnivores.
Out of 700 sanctuaries in the country, Ratapani is the only tiger reserve which has 60 tigers and 15 cubs. According to sources, the number of tigers has increased, but their territorial area has dwindled.
According to a report, in the Ranthambore National Park, Sariska Tiger Reserve, Mukundra Hills National Park, among others, from January 2019 to January 2022, most of the 32 female tigresses are in reproductive age, due to which there has been an increase in the birth of cubs. A total of 44 cubs have been born between 2019 to 2021. Due to the high number of tigers in the battered areas of Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, there is a high number of cases of missing tigers, territorial fights and death of the cubs as either their mother dies or moves with another male tiger.
Also, overall, in most of the tiger reserves, almost 10-15 tigers and tigresses are roaming outside as dominant males do not let newborn, young and sub-adult males remain inside the park. In such cases also, felines succumbs in want of adequate nutrition.