In the second part of our series on unmissable new BBC wildlife show Dynasties, the team witnesses a big cat’s dramatic battle with her own daughter
Part two of our series on epic BBC show Dynasties follows a tigress and a painted wolf both at war with their daughters
After the stunning success of Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II, Sir David Attenborough returns to our screens tomorrow night to present a brand new wildlife spectacular – Dynasties. The five-part series, four years in the making, follows five captivating and elusive creatures – lions, tigers, chimpanzees, emperor penguins and painted wolves – as they try to protect their offspring and preserve their bloodline. As Stephen Moss reveals in his book accompanying the show, there’s love and devotion, tragedy and triumph. Sit back and enjoy the family drama of the year...
Raj Bhera is the ruler of a tiger dynasty that goes back at least a century. A fully grown female, she is five years old, strong and experienced, with a grown-up daughter named Solo whose territory is close to hers. They live in Bandhavgarh National Park, 500 miles south of Delhi. Created in 1968, the park is patrolled by Forest Department guards on elephant back to prevent poaching. Dhruv Singh, who is from the area, knows these tigers’ long history. ‘Raj Bhera lives in the shadow of Bandhavgarh fort, an ancient city once home to maharajahs,’ he says. ‘Her dynastic rule echoes that of the people who lived here.’
Raj Bhera has a litter of cubs – three male and one female – hidden in a den in a remote, hilly part of the park. Her task is to raise them from birth through to adulthood and independence. She will only achieve that goal if she is able to find enough food for her and them, while at the same time defending her territory against intruders. And she will have to do this all on her own because, after mating, male tigers play no part in raising the family.
Her cubs, whose eyes open roughly a week after they are born, stay in the safety of the den for eight weeks or so, being fed on their mother’s milk. They grow rapidly: by the time they are four weeks old their weight has increased fourfold. After a couple of months, Raj Bhera gradually starts to wean the cubs onto solid food, though she will continue to produce milk until they are about six months old.
Sadly, the chances of any cub reaching maturity are less than 50/50. They may die from accidents, attacks by male tigers, poaching and other human encounters, bad weather, conflicts with other predators such as leopards, or starvation. Cubs are keen to explore their surroundings – like all young mammals, this is the way they learn – so Raj Bhera has to keep a constant eye out for danger. Cubs also enjoy play-fighting, which is crucial in learning the skills they need to make a life on their own.
With a new family to look after, Raj Bhera cannot patrol her territory – roughly eight square miles – as often or as diligently as she did. So a rival female pushes into a key part of Raj Bhera’s territory. This intruder is no stranger, but her adult daughter, Solo. Now nearly three years old, Solo moves into one of Raj Bhera’s best hunting areas, with a very high density of grazing animals. Solo could take her mother’s prey, putting the new cubs at risk.
Raj Bhera and Solo come face to face after Raj Bhera has made a kill. Secretly, Solo was watching. Gradually, Solo edges nearer and nearer, until her mother can no longer tolerate her presence. Now Solo is fully grown, she could take the kill from Raj Bhera.
Raj Bhera has to show Solo who’s boss. Yet she hesitates, realising perhaps for the first time that her daughter has grown into a real rival. The confrontation teeters on the brink of a fullscale fight. But Raj Bhera raises herself up to full height and Solo adopts a submissive pose, rolling onto her back. For now, Raj Bhera has won. Her age and strength keep her in charge. But soon Solo will start her own family and will have to enter her mother’s territory once again. By this stage, she will be far more experienced – and she might win the battle for supremacy between the generations.
At this point, each time Raj Bhera makes a kill the three bigger, stronger male cubs come in to feed straightaway, leaving little or nothing for their smaller sister, Biba. So one day while her brothers and mother sleep, Biba goes to feed on the remains of a kill. She
‘Raj Bhera’s dynastic rule echoes that of maharajahs’
Raj Bhera at the hidden den with her young cubs