Friday, 2 December 2011

First Time Mating by Second Generation Rewilded South China Tigers

A few months ago, we put Princess with Hulooo brothers, when signs ofsextual maturity of her and her brother King Henry were observed.  She was first put in with Hulooo but there seemed to be no love lost between them. Then I decided to put JenB & Coco in with her all at the same time to see if competition among the brothers may motivate some changes in her and/or Hulooo brothers behaviours.  Soon, I did notice her timidly trying to get close to the incredibly bonded brothers, which was an encouraging sign.

Then the party was broken from time to time, as she had to be moved out a couple of times due to her food getting stolen by the gang of brothers, and later the JenB & Coco had to move back to 100 ha hunting camp, etc after the snow-damaged fences were repaired.  Most recently, she was found alone with Hulooo. This morning, I saw her sneaking up to Hulooo rubbing her head against him, which was promptly shouldered off by Hulooo. Not taking the cue, she went anyway in front of him lying down crouching in the position that normally indicates an invitation of mating. I was excited to see that. Wow...Is she coming into Oestrus? She could be as she is now a bit over 3 years old. Her mother Madonna and Aunt Cathay however all sprayed profusely before they began their breeding career but Princess had not been observed to demonstrate such behaviour. Perhaps I was being too optimistic? Tiger keeper Vivienne confirmed that she also hadn’t noticed any spraying either.  Perhaps then I read into it too much? Perhaps neither she nor Hulooo are actually mature?

However, in the afternoon monitoring session, just while my and my visitors’ attention were focused on the lovely Cathay family, I suddenly saw, in the distance, Hulooo mounting Princess! I couldn’t believe my eyes and certainly couldn’t contain my excitement! Is this for real??? But all looked real: The roar that followed after mating, and the attempted slapping of Hulooo by Princess...

A second mating followed only two minutes later, confirming everything we saw. Within 30 minutes, we witnessed them mating five times. The usual shy Princess changed from a timid cat to a bold pursuer of love and traced Hulooo wherever he went. At one point, Hulooo’s attention was completely taken up by Cathay’s babies next door that he wouldn’t respond to Princess’ invitation, or perhaps they had been at it for the whole day that he felt like a rest? But that didn’t stop her.

So this is happening! This is for real!  I had underestimated Hulooo and had thought that being a hand-reared tiger he was too bonded to humans to take an interest in the finer sex. But I was wrong. Hulooo certainly demonstrated that he is a NATURAL at this!  However, unlike his mom and dad who had a romantic courtship due to their  intimate relationship prior to maturity, Hulooo and Princess’ mating was strictly business. And at times, Hulooo appeared to be almost reluctant..

I feel overwhelmed. And So proud...The second generation of rewilded South China Tigers in South Africa have now embarked their journey to procreate and maybe soon we will have third generation South China Tigers in SA? Fingers crossed. However, now that my one worry about their ability to mate is gone, the next one about their level of fertility has crept into my conscious....

Nov 27, 2011

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