Wild love in the wild

Do you ever think about the sex life of tigers? It’s an esoteric subject and you’re unlikely to find much on it in bookshops.

Wild love in the wild

Karan Thapar

Karan Thapar

Do you ever think about the sex life of tigers? It’s an esoteric subject and you’re unlikely to find much on it in bookshops. However, a new book tells you everything you want to know with details that are explicit, fascinating and, even, unbelievable.

As Valmik Thapar points out in The Sex Life of Tigers, it’s not just rare to catch tigers mating you have to be exceptionally lucky. Jim Corbett never did. ‘(He) had to rely on the sounds of tigers to imagine the possible lovemaking of a pair.’ Yet, the pair can ‘spend 6 to 10 days courting and mating’. During this period they can mate ‘every 15 to 20 minutes’. 

This delightful book gives you some wonderful details. The tigress uses her scent to attract males. She does this by marking and rubbing trees and bushes. ‘Tigers can detect the scent of another tiger, left on a tree or a bush or a scrape mark on the ground, even when it’s several days old.’

‘A tigress’, he writes, ‘marks a tree by shooting out a jet-like spray that soaks a spot and reveals… all kinds of vital information on the identity of the animal, its freshness and if she is sexually receptive. The spray is a mixture of urine and scent and smells like musky buttered popcorn!’

Once the tiger responds, the mating begins, not surprisingly with foreplay. The tigress rubs herself against the male tiger’s legs and even playfully bites him. ‘Locked in a close embrace, playfully kicking each other with their hind-feet… faintly sparring with their fore-paws, they (can roll) about thus for nearly a quarter of an hour.’ There are even occasions when tigers have been known to kiss!

During mating the tiger catches the tigress by the scruff of her neck. This is ‘to immobilise the tigress… it prevents her from swiveling around and slapping him.’ If anything, he has to be even more careful when it’s over. ‘When he exits the female after copulation he jumps away rapidly, in fact, leaps off fearing a slap by the female.’

However, tiger-mating is not a silent ritual. ‘Tigers roar much more during the mating period than at any other time.’ Food, on the other hand, is not a top priority. As Thapar found, during this time ‘they had one single-minded obsession, to copulate. For nearly five days all food will be ignored, including passing deer. The mating couple will visibly get thinner.’

A tigress can be called ‘a sex maniac’. And it’s not unknown for a tigress to mate with more than one tiger. This leads Thapar to ask: ‘Can cubs of a single litter be fathered by more than one male?’ The answer is yes. ‘When the female copulates with more than one male she persuades each that they are the father. Polyandry confuses paternity and can prevent infanticide by males.’

Well, after that, the next time someone wants to unleash the tiger in me I’ll know how to behave!