Mating - Page 1: In The Wild | 2: Fighting for a Female | 3&4: Copulation | 5&6: In Captivity
Sexual maturity in tigers:
Female tigers first come into season at around 2 1/2 years of age, but do not become sexually mature until 3 to 4 years old. They are usually pregnant, or rearing cubs, for the following 15 years. Copulation may take place before sexual maturity, though pregnancy is extremely unlikely. For males, sexual maturity occurs later, at approximately 4 to 5 years of age.
Tigers are sexually dimorphic which simply means males and females are distinctly different in appearance and medical tests are not required to establish gender.
A female will enter oestrus, or 'heat', either seasonally -- if it is a temperate climate -- or throughout the year in more tropical areas. Oestrus is the time when a female is receptive and able to become pregnant.
She will signal her readiness for breeding in various ways, including roaring, moaning and scent marking with a distinctive-smelling urine, mixed with a secretion from the anal gland.
Vocalisations can be persistent and one female was recorded as roaring 69 times in only 15 minutes. Approaching males sometimes reply.
The female will continue her efforts until a male is attracted, or oestrus is over. As wild tiger numbers become fewer, increasingly there are times when a mate is not found.
The time between episodes of oestrus varies considerably. In zoo tigers gaps of between 13 and 61 days have been recorded. The interval between the last litter and the next oestrus also varies from tigress to tigress.
Records taken from captive cats showed a range from 75 to 592 days. These figures may actually be much wider as the sampling of cats for this survey was very small.
Abortion and stillbirth:
Oestrus is also influenced by abortions or a stillborn litter. In these cases the tigress comes into heat again very quickly, often in only 10-12 days.
Possible false oestrus in tigresses has been reported from both Ranthambhore and Panna National Parks. This behaviour is known in lions, though it is as yet unconfirmed in tigers.
The most recent report of possible false oestrus made to Tiger Territory involved a tigress with older cubs (approximately 16 months). She was initially seen fighting with a male who was not the father of her cubs, then a fortnight later was sighted mating with him. All her behaviour (vocalisation, spraying, etc) indicated she was on heat, but the fact that she had two cubs made this unlikely. The possibility she was displaying a false oestrus in order to reduce the male's aggression is still being considered.