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A Tale of Survival: Orphaned Tiger Cubs Find a Surprising New Mother in Sanjay Tiger Reserve

A recent incident in the Sanjay Tiger Reserve glistened people’s eyes with tears of joy. Three tiger cubs, after losing their mother, warmed up to a different tigress with her own cubs. The ‘new mom’ loves all her kids equally as they live together like a family.
Indian Masterminds Stories

Sanjay Tiger Reserve, nestled in the Sidhi District of Madhya Pradesh, once flourished as the birthplace of majestic white tigers and was home to a significant population of these regal creatures. However, a lack of focused conservation policy during the British Raj resulted in the decimation of the tiger population in the region.

Following India’s independence, the Wildlife Protection Act was enacted in 1972, providing a glimmer of hope for the tiger population’s resurgence. The implementation of Project Tiger boosted conservation efforts in the area. Gradually, the reserve continued to improve, and it now has 41 tigers, including 22 adults and 19 cubs. This number, however, falls short of the region’s potential, making the preservation of every tiger a major priority for reserve management.

A recent observation at the reserve warmed the management’s hearts as they witnessed something very rare and beautiful – few orphaned cubs spontaneously snuggling to a new mum, who took them as her own and the family now lives peacefully together.

Indian Masterminds spoke exclusively to Deputy Director of Sanjay Tiger Reserve, IFS officer Hari Om, to understand this uncommon occurrence in detail.

TRAGEDY STRIKES

On the tragic night of March 16, news of a wounded tigress near a railway track that ran through one of the reserve’s key zones reached the tiger reserve officials. When they arrived, they discovered the tigress was a mother with four cubs aged 8 to 9 months.

Unfortunately, she was hit by a train, resulting in severe spinal damage. The team rescued her and summoned a team of vets for her care. Despite their best efforts, the tigress died of an internal haemorrhage that evening, leaving her four unaware cubs behind.

A DEVASTATING BLOW AND AN URGENT MISSION

The tigress and her kids were a familiar sight for both reserve officials and tourists. The death of a breeding tigress was a huge setback for a reserve still working to realise its maximum tiger population potential.

“The focus now shifted to ensuring the survival of the four orphaned cubs. They were too young to fend for themselves, and without their mother’s protection, their lives were in constant danger. We faced a critical situation, akin to orphaned children left to navigate the world without their mother’s care and guidance,” shared Mr. Om.

MEASURING THEIR OPTIONS

Two options lay before the reserve officials. The first was to tranquillize and capture the cubs, placing them in an enclosure until they reached adulthood. The second was to allow them to remain in the wild, closely monitoring their progress.

Capturing four cubs proved challenging, so given the favourable conditions in their current habitat, it was decided to study and monitor the cubs for a month, relying on nature’s direction. The first option would only be used in an emergency situation.

ANOTHER TRAGIC LOSS

A team of experienced reserve personnel, supervised by a senior official, was assembled to oversee the four cubs’ well-being and monitoring. Initially, everything went as planned. The cubs were observed and reported on a daily basis, demonstrating healthy behaviour consistent with expectations. 

However, tragedy struck again on March 24, when one of the cubs died as a result of infighting with an adult tiger. This created a new obstacle, as tranquillizing the remaining three cubs remained a challenging task. Despite the setback, the three orphaned cubs were closely monitored for the next three weeks, during which they remained stable and healthy.

A MIRACLE UNFOLDS

For two days in late April 2022, the surveillance team was unable to locate the three cubs. Despite three days of intensive searching, the elusive cubs remained undiscovered. Their absence typically signalled unfortunate news. The team was returning to their base with waning hopes when they encountered an unbelievable miracle.

A spectacle met them along the road connecting the Forest Rest House to human settlements outside the park – one adult tigress with six cubs. At first look, it appeared to be a family group of three cubs aged 8-9 months and three more cubs aged 6-7 months.

“The first group fit the description of the orphaned cubs we were looking for. To validate our results, we cross-referenced their database, determining that the tigress was a park resident, and the three additional cubs were the children of her deceased sister, who was killed in the March 17 train hit,” the officer told Indian Masterminds

AN UNPRECEDENTED ACT OF MOTHERHOOD

This was an uncommon and unusual incident in wildlife management. Tigers are known for their territorial tendencies, therefore a tigress taking on the burden of rearing another tigress’ offspring is exceptional. It added to the foster mother’s stress, but the group of seven tigers remained together, confounding expectations.

Continuous monitoring offered new insights into the nursing and maternal dynamics of these magnificent creatures. The orphaned cubs gradually warmed up to their ‘new’ mother, creating relationships comparable to those they shared with their own mother. In turn, the tigress offered equal devotion and care to both sets of cubs, cognizant of their requirements. 

“The monitoring team frequently witnessed her gentleness and nurturing nature, as she guided the orphaned cubs in hunting and surviving in the wild.”

The foster mother tigress

A BEAUTIFUL SIGHT

The sight of all seven tigers together remains a spectacular spectacle four months after their improbable union. Seeing these magnificent creatures in the wild together provided a profound connection to Mother Nature.

The transformation of the once-ferocious tigress into a sensitive and devoted mother demonstrated the extraordinary power of animal nurturing instincts.

The story of orphaned tiger cubs discovering an unexpected new mother in the outdoors demonstrates the tenacity of these beautiful beasts as well as the intricate dynamics of the natural environment. It serves as a reminder of the importance of conservation efforts and the painstaking labour done by committed individuals in saving endangered animals. The story of these seven tigers exemplifies nature’s strong spirit and the unbreakable bonds of motherhood.


Indian Masterminds Stories

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