During a television interview, I once referred to
human beings as "promiscuous apes". The media crucified me for
suggesting such a thing.
Promiscuous may be the wrong word, but the rituals
that human beings go through in pursuit of mates, is complex and
One only needs to go to a staff party at Londolozi
Game Reserve to see this process in action.
movie clip - mating, JV interview
The men dress up to display their physical assets. The
ladies wear revealing outfits which show off their beauty. Chemical,
visual and vocal messages, shoot across the dance floor. Subtle and not
so subtle messages inform or misinform potential mates.
The goal for the males is to get the females into bed
by the end of the night. Sex is the driving force.
Courtship in tigers is no less fascinating.
At Tiger Canyons, the two tigresses Julie and Shadow,
are in separate territories divided by a wire barrier. Each tigress
comes into estrous within hours of the other. How is this possible?
I believe chemical messages are being passed on my
jeep as it travels between territories. As the jeep enters, each tigress
immediately sniffs the marking fluid of the other tigress. The "Organ of
Jacobsen " in the roof of the tigress's mouth, processes the chemical
message and the one tigress detects the other is coming into estrous.
Not to be outdone, she syncs her estrous cycle, so she
can compete for a male when the time is right.
In the one territory is Shadow and Seatao,
half brother and sister. In the other territory is Ron and Julie, full
brother and sister.
Shadow will not allow Seatao to mate with her. Julie
is extremely aggressive to Ron.
Although their hormonal state is ready for mating,
instinctively they know that the male from the other territory is better
Such is Julie's desire to get to Seatao and to
displace Shadow, that she knocks a one ton gate clean off the rails.
As soon as I switch the males around, mating begins
I believe that the syncing of estrous cycles is a
clever system that nature has devised to ensure genetic diversity.
The tigers territorial system is that a males
territory can encompass two or three females.
If the tigress's came into estrous at different times,
the dominant male would be able to cover all the females and the cubs
would all be related to each other, because they have the same father.
Once the females come into estrous at the same time,
the male has to commit to one female. Now an opportunity for another
male presents itself to cover the second female in estrous. This is
better for the species, because the cubs from the two mated females will
not be related
The mating is an elaborate, aggressive affair. By the
first 24 hours Julie and Seatao and Ron and Shadow had each mated over
50 times. By the end of the second day, over 100 times. The
multi-copulation is believed to induce ovulation in the females.
Tigers are believed to be aggressive when mating and
yet I was able several times to go an foot with the mating tigers. The
energy and aggression is incredible. To be literally ten feet on the
ground from mating tigers, is a fantastic experience. They are
truly the great lovers of the world.
I have always believed that it is the female that sets
the timing of each mating and it was certainly true with these tigers.
However I observed Ron and Saetao on several occasions "chuffing" the
tigresses, almost enquiring whether they were ready to mate. If they got
a favorable response, they immediately approached the female and mating
There is no doubt that 100 copulations is a fatiguing
exercise. I got tired just watching them.
At one point Ron took refuge on top of my jeep to try
and get some rest, but Shadow pursued him and tried to get him to cover
her on top of the jeep.
movie clip - fighting
It's the tigresses who also ends the mating. When Ron
tried to cover Shadow on the third day and she refused, an aggressive
fight broke out. At times Shadow's paw speed defied the eyes and Ron's
eyes and face came within millimeters of being ripped.
Finally Ron seemed to take my advice and went off
hunting and patrolling his territory, something he had not done for 72
In 100 days, we will know whether mating has been
All 4 tigers involved, carry the rare white gene. This
gives them a 25% chance of producing a white cub.
White tigers have great religious and symbolic
importance in parts of Asia. To have a white tiger born in the wild at
Tiger Canyons, would have huge significance for tiger conservation and
it could open the door to one day relocating white tiger cubs into wild
litters in one of the progressive tiger countries in Asia.