While tigers are generally successful in their hunt for prey, they usually do so alone and have been known to take down some of the largest animals on the planet. However, when extreme conditions arise or if reserve resources diminish, tigers may be forced to rely upon another source of food: their own offspring.
Table of Contents
Yes, it’s true – tigers occasionally eat their young as a result of a variety of different factors. In a habitat with limited resources, the tigress sometimes kills and eats her weaker cubs in order to effectively reallocate nutrients and conserve energy.
Reduced availability of food has also been linked to infanticide among tiger populations as the mother can become desperate enough to cannibalise her own young.
Why do Tigers Eat their young?
To us, it might seem strange and unfathomable for tigers to dine on their own young, but in the wilderness of animal life, this is often necessary for the survival of their species. Studies have found that tigers will consume not only their cubs but also those of other tigers.
What’s more, if driven by hunger or desperation, these magnificent felines are not limited to just their own and can feast on a variety of creatures including snakes, vultures, eagles, pythons and crocodiles.
While we may question why they would choose to eat their own young when faced with this wild array of food sources, the answer comes down to survival; even if the meal at hand is distasteful.
It is Natural Maternal Behaviour
While it may seem abhorrent to humans, biologists suggest that infanticide is a natural behaviour among tigers. In fact, killing one’s own young is part of “normal” maternal behaviours for the animal.
Like many other species, tigers could decide to take drastic measures like parental infanticide if it helps them adjust their litter size; a mother might kill some of her cubs because she would be more capable of raising more of them in the near future.
Some Cubs might not become Perfect Tigers
Nature’s model is a ruthless master, and it has no room for excess. It is with this way of thinking that tigers operate, using the strict guidelines of survival of the fittest. When a new litter of cubs is born, male and female grown tigers know that competition for resources could become an issue soon down the line.
To ensure their own survival, tigresses will often consume their young in order to grant only the strongest offspring the opportunity to survive and eventually thrive into adulthood.
The Cub may be Unhealthy
While the motherly instinct of a tigress is strong, instances may arise when the cub has deformities or anomalies which would put it at a disadvantage. Thus, in order to ensure the survival of the species, the tigress will put an end to their struggles by killing them at such an early stage.
In nature, there is no room for weakness and if the cub does not have what it takes to outlast predators in its wild habitat, then its pack’s survival rate would decrease drastically.
While this may seem cruel to us humans, these decisions are integral parts of nature and ultimately dictate how parents raise their young in the animal kingdom.
Female tigers often find themselves stuck in a tough decision: do I keep the one cub I now have, or will sacrificing it be beneficial in the long run?
Unfortunately, science tells us that killing a single cub provides a number of benefits for the tiger. Without cubs to take care of, the female tiger hunts more efficiently and is able to increase her calorie intake.
On top of that, she enters into a mating cycle known as estrus during which other males are drawn to her.
The harsh realities of the wild can be quite unforgiving, and this is especially true when it comes to food scarcity. In a fight between survival and possible extinction, a tiger may turn on its young in order to stay alive.
While it is an unfortunate natural phenomenon, often times the cubs stand no chance in such a situation either if the mother dies of malnutrition. A mother tiger may even take to attacking her own cubs in her desperate search for food, believing that they belong to another tiger.
Why do tigers kill their young?
In nature, there is a lot of competition and sometimes tigers feel that their newborn cubs will not be strong enough to survive. This leads to female tigers instinctively killing their cubs when food sources are scarce or the threat of danger nearby is too great.
Do male tigers kill their young?
Male tigers might also prove to be the danger they guard against; studies have indicated that, in certain circumstances, male tigers can kill or inflict serious injury upon the cubs of another tiger.
Do tigers do infanticide?
Research studies suggest that this sad behaviour does indeed occur in some tiger populations – generally male tigers take over the territories of females with cubs, killing them so they can mate with their mothers.
Do tigers eat each other?
Recent studies have found evidence of tiger predation on other members of the same species, suggesting that in at least some cases, the big cats do indeed eat each other.
As difficult and cold as it may be to fathom, infanticide is a behaviour seen not only in tigers but in other animal species as well. In the natural world, starving mothers sometimes resort to this extreme survival tactic, making the decision to kill their own young to conserve resources or if those cubs appear weak, unhealthy, or unlikely to make it through the developmental stages.
This kind of situation is noticed in big cats, primates, bears and even canids. Though these cases are unpleasant and heartbreaking, especially from our human perspective that detests this behaviour, it appears to be an instinctual act for mothers who see no other option for guaranteeing their own survival in the animal kingdom.
An animal enthusiast with an interest in zoology, studying the behavior and activities of animals in the wild habitat. I work on research projects related to species conservation and endangered species protection. I also leverage zoology to become an educator, educating others about the importance of protecting our natural environment and the beauty of animals in their natural habitats.