Male Tiger Plays Mom to a Litter of Orphaned Cubs

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An adult tiger playing with cubs in the grass.

slowmotiongli / Getty Images

In nature, raising tiger cubs to maturity is almost always the job of mom alone, with tiger-fathers showing little interest in child rearing if any at all. For what may be the very first time, however, officials from a wildlife preserve in India have observed a male tiger that has adopted a litter of cubs left orphaned and alone when their mother died. But the fatherly gesture isn't just exceptionally sweet -- it's exceptionally rare, too.

"Such behavior of the tiger has been unheard of," says one expert.

Officials from Ranthambore Tiger Reserve had feared the worst for a litter of young tiger cubs that went missing after the death of their mother last February. Left unprotected in the wild, orphaned cubs stand virtually no chance of survival from both outside predators and other tigers.

That's when authorities made a remarkable discovery: the litter had evidently been adopted by a lone male.

Tiger males are nearly always wary of cubs, even their own. Outside males often will kill a female's young for a chance to mate with her themselves. So to find a male that has taken on the responsibility of actually raising a group of orphaned cubs has left officials awestruck.

"This unique sense of acceptance of the male tiger towards the cubs, is indeed amazing," said tiger authority RN Mehrotra in a report from The Pioneer.

What's perhaps even more amazing is the fact that the male, designated T-25, has taken to playing 'mom' to the cubs quite well. He reportedly has reduced his roaming territory to stay closer to the litter, and has been observed sharing his meals with them. Preserve officials, who have been closely monitoring the young family's progress, note that there is a chance the lone male is father to the litter, but that there is no way of knowing for certain -- and even then it would be an unprecedented case of parental involvement on the part of dad..

Officials say the unlikely discovery of a male playing 'mom' to a group of orphaned tiger cubs just goes to show that there is still plenty left to learn about the endangered species.