The Prince Is Born Ii: Growing Up By Nayan Raheja

Friday 14th August 2009

And so was born “Rustam”, the heir to the throne. He and his two sisters were born amidst a cave, deep in the forest. They are born with their eyes closed (which remains so for about a week) and have to depend on their doting mother to nurse them.

They aren’t able to see properly till about 2 months of age, so they routinely stray away from the cave! Their mother carries them back with her teeth, gripping them by the loose skin behind their necks. She licks them clean repeatedly with her rough tongue. These are tender times. At this age, they are susceptible to being harmed by Leopards, Eagles, Jackals, Pythons and even other adult male tigers. Therefore, she can’t leave the cave for a good few days for fear of letting the kids be alone. But there is no option. She has to if she needs to maintain her strength to feed milk to the cubs. Every outing is a risk she needs to take ! Hunger presses !
 
Statistics show that usually only half of any tiger litter survives by the time they reach adulthood. Rustam and his sisters start eating meat at an age of about 3 months. Their mother hunts alone and later leads them to the kill. If the kill is relatively smaller, she carries it back to the cave.
 
Rustam was a strong contender for King right since the beginning, as was evident in his friendly yet intent brawls with his two sisters. He would sneak up on them behind their backs and suddenly pounce on them! He was brave too, and inquisitive! He wanted to investigate every animal that came their way!
 
The cubs are quite playful at this age and spend a majority of their time stalking and leaping on each other. They practice their stalking technique on small animals, birds and even insects. This trait of a tiger comes naturally to it, partially through instinct and partially by watching their mother. They would also crouch and leap on their mothers tail, rubbing their heads and bodies against her to welcome her arrival every time she would return from a trip.
 
However, it is not before they are about a year old that they are allowed to accompany their mother on her hunting trips. Their mother, like all tigresses, has to teach them the lessons necessary for them to learn if they need to survive.
 
One fine day, she took them out with the same intent. They came across a herd of spotted deer! She crouched low. Her tail twitched. With amazing grace and poise, she stalks the deer, her eyes fixated on the specific fawn she has already chosen for the kill from amongst the herd. The cubs follow her and imitate her in unison!
 
The deer smell danger! There is tension mounting in the air. Suddenly she breaks her cover and leaps towards the deer! The deer are taken by surprise! They run helter-skelter! The atmosphere is pierced with the multiple alarm calls of deer screaming “paaoo-paaoo”. Langur monkeys jump from one branch to the other and warn the jungle of the impending danger with their shrieking “Takaao-Khaaar”. In the confusion, the fawn’s mother loses sight of him. When the dust settles, the tigress emerges. She has the fawn’s neck gripped with her teeth while he struggles and grasps his final few breaths. He is still alive for a purpose. The tigress is going to let the cubs push the final nail in his coffin. His fate…is sealed.
 
This is how the cubs learn the essential technique of hunting. There are two traits peculiar to the tiger in comparison to a leopard or a lion. Tiger’s go for the victim’s neck and break it. The Leopards would usually choke the neck of its prey if its not too small. Lions, in the other hand, usually hunt in a pride and hence shred down whatever piece of the victims body comes their way, although death usually comes by splintering of the neck.
 
The second trait is that of table manners. A tiger is very disciplined when it comes to eating. They would start eating from the hind portion of the rump. They remove the internal organs like stomach, intestines etc and put them on the sides before starting to eat. A leopard is a messy eater. It would usually start eating by splitting open the mid-section of the prey. Lions usually eat together within the pride. It’s quite a bloody sight actually with the lions struggling with each other for “First-dining” rights!
 
Time passes. By about 18 months, the cubs are capable of hunting on their own and actually team up with their mother on her hunting trips. In a few months, the time will come when they will have to part ways and head out to establish their own kingdoms. And so would be repeated the story of evolution and survival. For Rustam, the real challenges are yet to come...

 

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