Mating can occur at any time, but usually happens between November and April. When the females come into heat they may give a mating call. After that the tiger calls to the tigress, repeating at short intervals a deep - throated roar. They have a gentler puffing sound, which both tiger and tigress give out during friendly approach. The call of the females is not essential in summoning the males, as the smell of the oestrus female is sufficient to attract male. Usually several assemblies and courting of the female are acompanied by fighting among the males. At first the female evades him by fleeing and also repulses him by spitting and striking out with her claws. Gradually the female allows the male to come nearer and her increased receptivity is shown by her rubbing her head against any convenient object and rolling on the ground in front of him, he is still repulsed. Normally his aggression towards her is completely inhibited; he just draws back with halt closed eyes and ears laid back as she strikes at him. The male watches this with some disdain until she lies on her belly presenting to him, forelegs fully extended and hind legs partially bent. At this point the male moves over the tigress and mounts her in a knees-bent position, which places no pressure on her body. Sometimes he will vocalise loudly. Finally the female allows the male to come close enough to touch her and he at once grips her by the back of the neck. Intromission follows. During ejaculation the male lets out a sharp cry and takes hold of the lose skin folds on the neck of the female. Both cats will vocalise loudly and it is during mating that tigers are at their noisiest. As the male dismounts the female frequently turns back and strikes at him with her claws; he avoids the blow and the attack does not invariably occurs.
Copulation is repeated frequently for five or six days. Female tigers are induced ovulators, which means the act of mating causes the female to release an egg for fertilization. Several days of mating interactions may be required to stimulate ovulation and guarantee fertilization of the egg. Both male and female tigers may have several mates over their lifetime.
Female tigers become sexually mature at about three to four years of age. Male tigers become sexually mature at about four to five years of age. A female tiger may enter estrus (the time when a female is receptive and capable of conceiving young) every three to nine weeks, and her receptivity lasts three to six days.
A female tiger's gestation period is about 100 days. Gestation may range from 93 to 111 days. Most adult tiger females give birth about every 2 to 2.5 years. Periodically, the interval between births is every three to four years. If a litter of newborns dies, a female can produce another litter within five months. Two to four cubs are normally born per litter, but litter size can vary from one to six cubs.
At birth, tiger cubs weigh about 1.7 - 3.5 pounds. The cubs are born with their eyes closed. A mother tiger nurses her young for about three to six months. The father does not assist in their upbringing. Cubs open their eyes at about one week of age, but do not see clearly until about two months of age.
A tigress gives birth to her young in some dense patch of cover in a cave or under a rough shelter of rocks. The tiger appears to desert its mate shortly before or after the cubs are born. The mother keeps the nursery clean, who attends to the toilet of the cubs, licking them with her great rough tongue until they can lick themselves or each other clean.When they stray from their lair she brings them back, carrying them by gripping the loose skin of the neck with her teeth. The young are insistent in their demands for attention. For the first few days the mother remains constantly with them, later hunger compels her to go out and hunt.After two months of age, the cubs begin to eat meat. The female will hunt on her own, and afterwards lead her cubs to the kill. The cubs now weigh about 22 pounds. Tiger cubs are quite playful, and spend their time stalking and leaping on each other. They also practice their stalking technique on small animals, like birds or insects. Training in hunting begins in the nursery. The cubs erouch and leap at each other. What seems pointless play with the mother’s tail is gaining of skill in approach and attack. In tigers the mother first brings the young to the kill she has made, at the age of six weeks and it is not until they are about a year old that they start accompanying her on her hunt.She then helps them to make first kill. She will first catch a small animal, injured but not dead. Then she leaves it for her cub to catch it and make their first kill.
By about six months of age, the cubs are weaned and they begin traveling with their mother as she hunts. For the following year, the cubs are taught how to hunt. At first, the cubs watch their mother as she hunts. Next, the mother may cripple a deer or buffalo and let the cubs finish it off. Finally, the cubs practice their skills on their own. By 18 months of age, the cubs are usually capable, independent hunters. These subadults may be as large or larger than their mother in size.
Subadult tigers may remain in their mother's home range for up to 30 months. They are usually driven off the range by their mother as she starts taking her new litter of cubs to kills. Young males usually disperse (travel away from their mothers' area) farther than young females. They tend to establish temporary territories, and as they mature, gradually expand them or move into the vacated territory of a resident male. Unlike females, males normally shift or change home ranges several times during their lifetime. Subadult females often establish a home range next to their mother, and may even acquire a portion of her range.
The first two years of life is a dangerous time for tigers. The mortality rate is at least 50%. Young cubs are vulnerable to predators, grass fires, and floods. Older cubs may be hurt or killed when learning to hunt dangerous prey. Females survive more frequently than males. Male cubs tend to be more adventurous when learning to hunt prey. During dispersal, subadult males have a high rate of injury due to fights with resident males. They also disperse more often into marginal habitats where prey is harder to find. If they try to survive by "cattle-lifting" (hunting domestic livestock), they may be shot or poisoned.
Most tigers in zoological parks are captive-born. There are currently captive breeding programs for all tiger subspecies. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) Tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP) jointly coordinates the breeding programs of three tiger subspecies: Siberian tigers, Indo-Chinese tigers, and Sumatran tigers. The Bengal tiger breeding program is managed in Europe and India, and the South China tiger program is managed primarily in China.