In February 2021, I travelled to Kanha Tiger Reserve to participate in a bird survey. As we had some spare time on the first day, some of us birder friends decided to go on a safari inside the jungle even though many of us were going to walk on foot in the same area for the next two days.
As birders, we were busy observing and counting birds, when we were informed by the guide that he had seen a male and female tiger roaming on the same track in the morning. He said that if we were lucky, we might get a sighting of the pair. When we arrived at the place where the tigers had been spotted in the morning, there were two jeeps already parked on the road, and the guide promptly told us to prepare for a tiger sighting.
What he said was true, for we soon saw a huge male tiger moving parallel to us, at some distance, along a small stream of water. Before we could even get a proper glimpse of the male tiger, a tourist from one of the other safari jeeps turned our attention towards a female tiger that was seated a short distance away. The drama that unfolded soon after is something that we will cherish forever.
Initially, we saw the male tiger moving towards our side, but suddenly he stopped. He growled and waited for a while, and then started to make his way back to where the female was seated. He stood for a minute beside her and after growling briefly started to walk again, with the female now following him. But after taking a few steps, she stopped and lay down by the bushes. The male, who had by then walked some distance, looked back and saw that the female was not following him. He came back and lay down in the pool near the female and waited patiently. After some time, he stood up, growled loudly, and stretched himself vertically against a large tree to mark his territory. Then he slowly approached the female and both of them started caressing and cuddling. It seemed as if the male was persuading the female to come along with him.
Once again, the male started moving and the female reluctantly followed him but after a few steps, she sat down again. The male returned again, growling loudly, but this time he walked onto the road and gave us the opportunity to shoot some nice images. The same thing happened again and upon realising that the female was not interested in following him he just sat down on the road. After a while, he lay down fully as if he had surrendered to her whims and was telling her to take her own sweet time.
And then to our surprise, the female started moving slowly towards the male as if to reassure him and she gently touched (sort of kissed) him. The male stood up and started to move along the road with the female following him. But once again, the female stopped and sat next to the road. But this time around, the male seemed to lose his temper, and he returned to the spot where the female was sitting and urged her to follow him, which she began to do. But she was still very suspicious (perhaps due to the presence of vehicles) and after walking for a few steps she moved a little up on the hilly side and sat down near a bamboo thicket.
The terrain was hilly on one side with a small stream flowing on the other side. Suddenly, the male turned around, growled angrily and started charging at the vehicles. All the vehicles started moving back immediately. The male then stopped and began looking for the female. After a while, she joined him and the pair walked away slowly, playfully running alongside each other, happy in each other’s company. All of us observing them understood that the duo were courting and realised that our presence must be distracting them. So we decided to move away, leaving the happy couple behind.
According to scientific studies, during the breeding period, the female leaves behind scent marks to indicate her readiness for mating. When the male finds the female, they spend time together, indulging in various mating rituals like rubbing, caressing, cuddling, and also produce several sounds to communicate with each other. The observations we were allowed by this mating pair were fascinating and it beautifully depicts the courtship behaviour of tigers in the wild.