There are few things better than seeing a tiger. Seeing six tigers at once is certainly one such thing.
We are currently in Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve, Central India, looking for Tigers as well as the other wildlife. On the 29th May we certainly found some, a family group of six. Mum is a 7-year old tigress by the name of Sonam, who has 4 cubs of about a year old.
We spent 22 minutes with the family which started at 6:30 am and involved a lot of wonderfully intimate moments as Sonam lead the cubs into a water hole to drink and cool down. Her single female cub lead her siblings to the water and sat confidently next to her mother while the boys were a little uncertain, but soon enough all four were present. Two of the boys are quite skittish and on a couple of occasions retreated from the waterhole for a minute before returning to receive a comforting nuzzle from their serene mum. One of the male cubs flashed a snarl of disapproval at the onlooking photographers and wildlife enthusiasts.
The truly remarkable aspect of this family is the tiger that was not in the water but instead was watching from the bank. This tiger is a 3 year old male, known as Rocket, who's from Sonam's previous litter. Incredibly he has retained a close relationship with his mother and also has a close relationship to his younger siblings. We heard from our guide that Sonam still provides an occasional kill for him and another for the 4 cubs, while he's been known to baby sit while Sonam is hunting. This relationship flies in the face of commonly held views, where cubs are driven away from their natal home by about the age of 2.5 years. [edit: Similar relationships have been observed in Bandhavgarh - Thanks Kay Tiwari for the heads up]
Rocket is a shy tiger and despite his enormous bulk and strength he's not comfortable with people around. He snarled on a few occasions, once quite audibly. When the family eventually left the waterhole a couple of cubs ran to their big brother and sat with him as be snarled at us. Sonam greeted him like her other cubs by nuzzling his cheek. When he snarled again, so Sonam nuzzled him "There, there, son. There's nothing to worry about." WIth that the family set off through the forest leaving the assembled crowd in raptures.