Reproduction in tigers is a very important part of their life cycle, both for them and for the human beings committed to ensuring the survival of their species. Being an endangered species, tigers are a precious commodity the world over, regardless of subspecies.
Although tigers can mate throughout the year, copulation usually happens between November and April, which are the cool months in their various habitats. Females reach sexual maturity at around three of four years of age, while males are a little older, at an average of four or five years old.
Oestrus refers to the time in which a female tiger is receptive and likely to conceive. She will enter oestrus once every three to nine weeks and is in optimal conception state for three to six days of this period. The frequency of the oestrus period in females differs from one part of the world to the other. For example, females may enter oestrus throughout the year in tropical areas, while they may only be receptive to mating in the cooler months in more temperate areas.
During oestrus, the male and female tigers will mate frequently to increase the chances of her conceiving.
Just before her oestrus begins, the female will begin advertising her readiness by marking her range, urinating within the particular area with distinctive-smelling urine. This lets males know that she will perhaps accept their attempts to mate with her. Once the oestrus cycle begins, she may begin to make vocal cries to attract nearby males. When a male arrives, a courting process starts. The male initiates various howls and whines, to which she responds accordingly. They smell one another, lick and purr while rubbing their bodies against each other.
Over the next few days, they will mate many times. Interestingly, ovulation only occurs when stimulated by mating. After this process, the male will likely move on to another receptive female for the same purpose. He will have nothing to do with the female (or the cubs) after mating has occurred. Male and female tigers will have various sexual partners throughout their lifetime.
The tigress has a gestation period of approximately 16 weeks. The cubs are incubated within her uterus and are nourished via umbilical cords. They are born live. Usually, about three cubs are born in a secluded den that the mother has prepared for them. They are blind at birth and, therefore, need their mother to take care of their every need. They will stay safely tucked in their den for the first two months of their life. There is always a dominant cub, which is larger and stronger than the others, in each litter. The mother will nurture this cub to ensure the survival of the fittest, healthiest animals, especially in the case of a shortage of food.
During the first few months of their lives, cubs are playful and carefree. As they mature, the mother will begin to teach them to hunt. By the age of 18 to 24 months, the cubs should be sufficiently equipped to hunt by themselves. Female cubs will establish their personal territory close to that of their mothers, while males tend to wander further away.
Sadly, many tiger cubs die before they reach maturity. In fact more than half of the tigers born will die before two years of age. The main threats to their survival include male tigers that want the female to be free of young ones so that she can mate, predators and starvation. Because these factors are usually only threats in the wild, tigers breed well in captivity.