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Saturday, Sep 21, 2019

Q&A: A tigress prefers a male who is the boss of the area she lives in, says Valmik Thapar

Wildlife expert and writer Valmik Thapar has watched tigers for over four decades. In a new book, The Sex Life Of Tigers, he writes about the tigers’ secret, intimate world. He talks to HT about the experience.

india Updated: Dec 02, 2018 10:15 IST
Poulomi Banerjee
Poulomi Banerjee
Hindustan Times
A tiger couple fondle by rubbing heads, cheeks and the flanks of their bodies, as the tigress encourages the tiger to mate.
A tiger couple fondle by rubbing heads, cheeks and the flanks of their bodies, as the tigress encourages the tiger to mate. (Photo by Valmik Thapar, from his book The Sex Life Of Tigers)
         

Tigers go to great lengths to find their mates. When they copulate, it is with single-minded focus. Yet, for wildlife observers, this is something they are rarely able to witness at close quarters. Wildlife expert and writer, Valmik Thapar, explains why.

For wildlife expert Thapar, field   study is more important than observations made through hidden cameras.
For wildlife expert Thapar, field study is more important than observations made through hidden cameras. ( Photo by Sanjna Kapoor )
You have dedicated this book to the tigers of Ranthambhore. Why is Ranthambhore so special to you?

I went to Ranthambhore 43 years ago moving away from a life in Delhi. The place mesmerised me and it was tigers all the way but in a setting that was full of history and the memories of man. There is no place in the world that has a 1,000-year-old fort and wild tigers that live in the ruins that dot the landscape. This is a dry forest where visibility is good and you can spot the animal. The tigers do not fear humans so you can watch them. Most other tiger forests are thick and impossible to observe the secret world of this magnificent predator.

In June 2018, when you anticipated that you were about to witness two tigers mating after so many years of tiger watching, you write “A dream was coming true”. Why was it such a special moment?

In these 43 years I have never at close quarters seen tigers mating. In the distance you can see a mating couple but then they vanish into the bushes. There are very few examples of close observations of tigers mating. It is their secret and private world that few are lucky or privileged to see. It is different with lions as they live in a pride and can be spotted in open grasslands in Africa – tigers are solitary and live in thick forest. Very difficult to see let alone photograph.

In one section of the book, you write that “much of the tiger’s world revolves around its sexual activity and this is the pivot for determining its life”. Please explain.

Animals live to reproduce and all activity revolves around their sexual world. The tigress after mating will have her cubs in three months and then look after them for two years. When they leave her she will start to look for a mate and the same process continues. The sexual world leads to reproduction and is the most important world for all animals.

Ranthambhore Tales
Ranthambhore Tales
You have also written in detail about the various methods that tigers and tigresses employ to find a mate. But is there a system of selection or choice involved?

In today’s world tigers probably have little choice of their mates. In 100 years we moved from a population of 100,000 tigers to 2,000 tigers. In the days gone by several males would have fought over the rights of a female and she would have chosen the fittest of the lot. Very few have studied the question of choice as no one has observed it but I believe that a tigress prefers a male who is the boss of the area she lives in and who she sees regularly.
This is the first time ever in the world that such a book has been written.

You also mention the single-minded priority to copulate during the mating season – to keep mating and ensure conception. Isn’t just satisfying the sexual urge enough?

Tigers mate to procreate. This is their single-minded obsession. Male tigers may have sexual urges and the tigress has to find ways to satisfy them but again this is rare to witness and I have put some of my observations of this in the book.

You have regretted that now field observations are a thing of the past and most scientists depend on the results of unmanned cameras to predict the life of wild tigers. Why is field observation so important?

You must know the tiger you study. You have to see it with your eyes and understand its character and temperament. Hidden cameras cannot do that. Field observations are therefore a must. They tell you the stories around that specific animal.

After so many years of tiger and wildlife watching, is there anything left for you to see?

I have been very privileged with what I have seen. The natural world can always spring surprises. I do not know what I will see next that will force me to put pen to paper. One of my dreams is to watch wild tigers interacting with wolves over a kill. You never know, it could happen Ranthambhore is one of the few places where they are found together. I believe in the magic of the natural world and what can happen when you turn the next corner.

First Published: Dec 01, 2018 18:02 IST