Becoming a Tiger: Social Behaviors of Amur Tigers
Docent, Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium
The largest feline species Panthera tigris altaica, also known as the Amur tiger, lives in the taiga forests of Russia and Northern China. These wild cats are primarily a solitary species, where individuals sleep, hunt, and travel their territory completely on their own. The one exception to this normal solitary behavior is when mothers are raising their cubs. Cubs remain with their mothers for up to 3 years, learning how to be
a tiger. Observing how each cub interacts with their mother could aid in successfully reintroducing orphaned, rescued cubs, and young tigers into the wild by teaching the cub in a similar way to the mother’s style. The Amur tiger population is critically endangered; with only about 500 Amur tigers remain in the wild and a 50-75% mortality rate among cubs. The wild population is put in danger due to human encroachment/habitat loss, poaching, and prey loss.
For this ongoing study, I have been observing the relationships between an Amur tiger mother and her three cubs. This particular family consists of a mother, Toma, who throughout the study was ages 12-14 years old. Toma has had 6 surviving cubs in three litters (two her first, one her second, and three her third). This current litter consists of two females and one male. Over the course of this study the cubs were ages 5 months to 2 years. Max is the male cub, and Nikita and Simsa are the females. Simsa was hospitalized and partially hand-raised at an early age, due to an infection at the base of her spine. She was successfully reintroduced to Toma and her siblings. Simsa grew up with them.
For the study, different behaviors were set up to be observed. These behaviors were not human-centric and were strictly the bare minimum action. These are not interpretations of the individual’s actions. Each behavior can simply be given a yes or no occurrence, with no doubt whether or not an action occurred. These behaviors also had to be redefined as the cubs aged, for the behaviors either changed or new ones appeared. For example, playing as cubs meant that two cubs were engaged in a nonaggressive interaction where they both were comfortable with the biting. As the cubs
aged, the play became more violent, with one individual sometimes showing signs of discomfort (teeth bearing) during the interaction.
During the study, I recorded each individual’s twelve common behaviors which occurred on their own. These behaviors were chewing, sleeping, walking, running, stalking, sitting, lying, watching, grooming, chuffing, flehming, urine marking, and playing. Twelve common behaviors with specific individuals were also recorded. These were also the same as listed above. Finally, the habitat was broken up into the five
areas. I recorded which areas they preferred to reside.
Two separate sections of the family’s life were observed. This occurred when the cubs were 4-9 months old, and from 17-24 months. Data was taken at least twice a week in half-hour increments to allow for a “snap-shot” of the family’s life. This short time of watching was needed for two reasons. First, the cubs at first tired easily, so long naps were common after the play. Later on, the cubs are not as interested in interactions.
Secondly, as the study went on, the cubs began to interact with me, which caused an issue for accurate observations. Watching the family during their active state is critical to see the social interactions, and then followed with who they like to sleep next too for naps.
Time budgets were created for each individual to create a percentage of time spent with whom, doing what, and where. To calculated time budgets, the tallies of the occurred behaviors were counted up and totaled. Finally by creating pie charts, a percentage of their time was then found. These percentages were then compared to other members of the family.
For the time frame of the cubs being 4-9 months old:
The time frame of the cubs being 17-24 months old is still occurring, so the data will be discussed during the presentation. During this second time frame, the cubs are now beginning new behaviors, such as urine marking, flehming, and aggressive fighting.
Based on the results of 4-9 months old, Toma preferred to interact with Nikita and played with her cubs. She however was typically the target of the stalking cubs. Max liked to interact with his mother the most, along with lying around. He chuffed not once during the first set of observations. Nikita loved to interact with Toma and Simsa. She also liked to stalk and play most of her time. Simsa had a well-rounded interaction with her family, but also allowed time for herself. She also was an active cat, always on the move.
The family has dynamic social interactions and each individual has their own favorite behaviors. These interactions are changing now that the cubs are gaining more independence.