How does a tigress balance the opposing constraints of raising cubs?

Abstract

The persistence of wildlife populations largely depends on females successfully rearing young through the earliest, most vulnerable period. During this period, mothers must balance the costs of home range maintenance, food acquisition, and protection of cubs. We monitored a GPS-collared Amur tigress Panthera tigris altaica for 4 months prior to and 4 months after giving birth to assess how home range size, activity budget, movements, and hunting behavior changed between these periods. After birth, home range size collapsed as activities were centered around the den site. With cubs, the tigress spent slightly less time moving, but greatly increased the rate at which she traveled. Kill rate, handling time, and daily consumption rates did not change significantly, but there was an indication that larger prey were killed during the natal denning period than in other periods. When cubs left the den site and started travelling with their mother, the female was able to increase time spent with cubs, reducing risk of predation. We hypothesize that some of the behaviors of this tigress, which appeared likely to increase cub survival, may be universal across the species, but others will be dependent on ecological parameters specific to the site.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the staff of the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Zapovednik for their ongoing support of our research, especially former Directors Anatoly Astafiev and Dmitry Gorshkov. The Siberian Tiger Project staff, particularly Vladimir Melnikov, Daria Maksimova, and Evgeniy Gishko helped to collect data in the field. Comments from Dr. Krzysztof Schmidt and two anonymous reviewers substantially improved the manuscript. Special thanks to Mikhail Borisov, Ekaterina Petrunenko and Clay Miller for contributing to the project.

Funding

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Panthera’s Kaplan Graduate Award Program, Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenburg Foundation, Save the Tiger Fund, USFWS Tiger Rhino Conservation Fund, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

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Correspondence to Yury K. Petrunenko.

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Capture and handling of the tigress followed guidelines of the American Society of Mammalogists (Sikes et al. 2011). Protocols were approved by the Animal Care Committee of the Wildlife Conservation Society as well as the University of Montana Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (UM IACUC AUP 043-09).

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Communicated by: Krzysztof Schmidt

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Petrunenko, Y.K., Seryodkin, I.V., Bragina, E.V. et al. How does a tigress balance the opposing constraints of raising cubs?. Mamm Res 65, 245–253 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13364-019-00466-x

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Keywords

  • Amur tiger
  • Panthera tigris altaica
  • Maternal behavior
  • Predation rate
  • Movement