We kept on driving in circles on a chilly winter morning. Signs indicating the presence of a tiger, in the form of fresh pugmarks and alarm calls, were all around us. But the striped cat kept evading us. Finally we reached a junction where we were told that a female tiger had just slid into the bushes. Dejected by the news, we waited at the spot hoping for the tiger to step back out. After a while, we decided to check a parallel road. And surely, the tigers were there! Not one, but two tigers!
The moment we chanced on them, they retreated back into the bushes. Hoping to convince the tigers to come out once again, we drove far away from the spot and waited with our binoculars and cameras pointing in the direction. Now without the disturbance of vehicles, one of the tigers did come out, and sat on the road. The second tiger also emerged with caution after a little while. Suddenly we realized, that the cautious approach was not because of us. The second tiger warily walked towards the first one, and the two exchanged a few brutal blows. The fight was brief, but vicious.
It was only later, when I zoomed into my photos and identified the tigers, I realized the reason behind the fight. The tiger which attacked was a female tiger, T-31. She currently has a cub, may be about 18 months old. About a couple of weeks back, T-31 had shifted her territory to stay away from the intruding male. This male, not the father of her cub, would definitely kill the cub. T-31 even tried to suppress the male’s advances by trying to mate with him. But when this strategy had failed, she had to move out.
The neighboring territory was controlled by another female, T-33. This old tigress has not been seen for sometime now, but her four cubs (2 males and 2 females) still patrol her territory. In the absence of an adult tiger laying claim to the area, T-31 found it easy to move in. This area was also closer to the area where her cub’s father is now seen, and so the move proved to be doubly advantageous.
But the four cubs in this territory, about 22 months old now, are still bigger than T-31’s cub, and could harm him. In order to ensure protection of her cub, T-31 had to keep the four siblings away from her cub and slowly try to push them out.
The fight we witnessed was between T-31 and one of the male cubs from the litter of four. With a lot of experience and aggression, driven by the love for her cub, T-31 emerged victorious in the fight. In fact the young and inexperienced male did not put up much of a fight at all. But despite the result, T-31 was injured in the fight, while the young male escaped unhurt. Although he had lost the fight, the young tiger left the area with an invaluable lesson of survival
Naturalist, Singinawa Jungle Lodge