Interaction between TiBo, Nonyana cubs and food.

The white tigress of Tiger Canyon (TiBo) produced a second litter of cubs at the end of November in 2017. This litter consists of only one normal coloured cub and two white coloured cubs. Often in each litter you find a very shy cub that isn’t seen very often, a very bold cub that is usually a “mommy’s boy” and has no problem posing for photos, and a third cub that seems to contain aspects of both.

As the cubs develop we’re able to observe them practice their stalking, ambushing, hunting and fighting techniques on each other and even on their parents.

On the 28th of June 2018, guests and I witnessed how the7-month-old cubs used these techniques to wrangle food away from their mother. Tigress TiBo had made a kill but was not up to sharing it with her cubs, who, as you can imagine were quite hungry. So the cubs devised a cunning strategy in order to steal the food from her. There could be a number of reasons why TiBo was unwilling to share the kill with her cubs – she could have been drained from the hunt and seeking sustenance for the next hunt, or she could have been attempting to teach the cubs the skills needed to claim a kill.

Tigress TiBo took the kill to one of her favourite spots under a tree which provides protection for her (and the cubs) to eat it in peace. The first part of the cubs’ strategy was to moan and cry in order to indicate that they were hungry. 

This attempt failed, the second step involved two of the cubs surrounding the tigress in order to pull her focus off the kill (which also prevents her from eating too much of it) while a third cub inched closer towards her – this was the boldest cub and he soon received a battering from TiBo. He retreated temporarily but quickly devised a new approach, edging his way closer to her while the other two tried to regain ground (one behind her and the other around the side of her).

As the cubs moved slowly closer to mom, she became more aggressive, more protective (still hardly eating anything), so that one cub decided it would be better to hang back and watch for a while.

Suddenly TiBo struck out at the cubs, which immediately lay on their sides to show submission, ending up nose-to-nose with mom growling and baring her teeth. The cubs mimicked her every growl and snarl (another aspect of their behavioural development). Things went quiet for a while as TiBo pondered her next move before pouncing on them to chase them away, unsuccessfuly! She then grabbed the kill and tried to make a run for it but the cubs were too fast.

The two white cubs clambered onto her, taking turns to try to grab the warthog while the orange cub received a lashing from mom. TiBo frantically tried to protect her kill as all three cubs entered into a tug-of-war with her. She knew she was about to lose her kill and tugged desperately at it but the cubs refused to let go. 

All four held onto the kill, strategizing their next move. Suddenly TiBo jumped up and tried to pull the meat away but the boldest cub wouldn’t let go. He held on tight and the tigress’s only remaining move was to sit on him: the cub under her went still… while the other two cubs watched, waiting, too scared to move in.

A few seconds went by (which felt like a lifetime) and then the cub under TiBo pulled as hard as he could and the tug-of-war started again. This time the cubs won!