India male tiger plays doting dad to orphaned cubs

The adult male walks behind one of the cubs (Photo: Ranthambore forest department) Wildlife officials say a male tiger protecting cubs is very unusual (Photo: Ranthambore forest department)

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Forest officials in northern India say a male tiger appears to be caring for two orphaned cubs in an extremely rare display of paternal feeling.

The cubs lost their mother in February in the Ranthambore tiger reserve. Officials there say they believe the male tiger, named T25, is their father.

Wildlife experts say cubs are usually raised by their mothers and male tigers often kill cubs they come across.

Officials believe there is no recorded evidence of males behaving like this.

Photographs taken by hidden cameras in the forest reserve in India's northern Rajasthan state have documented the tiger's behaviour. The most recent images show the male tiger walking just a metre behind one of the cubs, Ranthambore field director Rajesh Gupta told the BBC.

The cubs, who are believed to be about eight months old now, were first seen on 29 January with their mother T5, a forest official in Ranthambore told the BBC.

He said after the tigress died on 9 February, the cubs were being reared in the wild by forest department staff.

The cubs are too young to make a kill on their own and are being provided with bait by forest staff.

"During my visit to the park on Monday 30 May, I was standing on the top of a cliff and I saw one of the cubs down below eating the kill," Mr Gupta says.

"It is seen in good health," he said. It appears as if the male tiger is allowing the cubs to eat their kill and not taking it for himself."

Cubs as food

"It's very unusual," UM Sahai, Rajasthan's Chief Wildlife Warden, told the BBC from the state capital, Jaipur.

"Normally the tigress keeps an eye on the cubs while the father is a visitor, who is seen off and on, especially when he comes to mate with the tigress," he said.

Wildlife experts say that it is common for male tigers to never even set eyes upon the cubs they father - especially when the mother is not present and many male tigers will simply see cubs as food.

Ranthambore, one of India's best known tiger parks, has about 40 tigers, including about a dozen cubs.

According to the latest tiger census figures released in March, India has 1,706 of the big cats.

The country had 100,000 tigers at the turn of the last century but there has been a serious decline in numbers since then.

Experts say that 97% of tigers have been lost to poaching and shrinking habitats.

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