Mara needs to produce 2,5 litre of milk a day to feed 5 cubs
A human mother in a first world country when she
gives birth, is probably in a modern hospital with gynecologists and
midwives surrounding her.
A mother in a rural area, is in a hut with some
experienced women helping her with the birth. The human mothers
have had at least thirteen years of life experiences before she gives birth
to her first baby.
A tigress gives birth on her own in a cave or
thicket to 4 or more cubs and she could be as young as 36 months. A Cheetah
mother could be just 24 months old and gives birth to 6 offspring,
At Tiger Canyons the female cheetah Mara has
produced 5 cubs. Mara does not have a den, she keeps them in a
secluded spot until they are big enough to move with her.
For the first 3 months of its life, the cheetah cub has a mantle
which camouflages it in the flowering grass
Maraís problem is, how does she produce enough
milk to feed 5 cubs. Nature solves the problem for her. The cubs are
born when the young blesbuck calves and springbok fawns are being
born, providing easy hunting for Mara.
At 5 weeks old, Mara's cubs are already eating meat.
Blesbuck and springbuck mothers that have not yet
given birth, are heavily pregnant and therefore slower and easier to
catch. This is how she boosts her calcium intake and hence her milk
The main danger to Maraís cubs are veld fires that would
engulf the cubs in the grass. Once again nature comes to her
assistance. Early heavy rains have created a magnificent green
Savannah. It is unable to burn.
Tigress Tibo has a different system to Mara.
Feeding 3 cubs, she too is benefiting from the newly born springbuck
Tibo feels with her feet for a kill which she had hidden in the
Tiboís human friends are also giving her one or two
warthogs a week so she can spend less time hunting and more time
caring for the cubs.
Tibo searches for a den site high up in the rocks. Here the cubs are in
danger of falling out of the den and also from aerial attacks from
Every 6 to 7 days, Tibo will change her den. During
the heat of the day when male tigers are less active (see previous
newsletter) Tibo must carry the cubs in her mouth, one by one, to
the new den site. This is a dangerous time.
However, nature comes to her aid. As she picks up
the tiny cub in her powerful jaws, it instinctively hangs limp and
remains silent, enabling her to make the journey to the new den
quickly and quietly. Tibo cant count. She will carry all the cubs to
the new den and then return to the original den and call softly. If
no cub responds, then she is satisfied she has all the cubs.
Tiboís choice of den is crucial. If she goes up
the cliff into a cave, a cub could crawl out of the cave and fall to
its death below. In the rocky outcrops, black eagles hunt rock
hyrax. If a cub crawls out of the den and a black eagle could make
an aerial attack and carry the cub away. If she chooses a den site
low down next to the river, a storm could roll in, flash flooding
the river and drowning some or all of the cubs before she can carry
them to safety.
While suckling the cubs, Tibo still has to mark her territory to
prevent rival females from taking over
Tigress Julie once chose a den site in a dense
thicket that looked very good. However while she was away, a swarm
of ants attacked the cubs. The distress call of the cubs
attracted a male tiger who was not the father of the cubs and therefore
a potential danger, (see previous newsletter) Fortunately Julie
arrived back in time to drive the rival male away.
For both Tigress Tibo and Cheetah Mara, it is
their first litter. They are acting purely on instinct and taking
decisions on their own, itís a tough, tough ask.
With no rival predators, Mara's chances of raising all 5 cubs are good
Our first world
human mother, would have gone to pre-natal classes, post-natal
classes and have umpteen books to read on baby management.
Tibo and Mara are running purely
on instinct. They deserve our utmost admiration as they strive to
successfully raise every one of their cubs.
Tread lightly on the Earth