Nat Geo's Big Cat Week episode "Tiger Dynasty" spans 14 years and shares an intimate look into the life of Machli, the most famous tigress in the world. Filmmakers discovered her as a cub, and she's become a global superstar. This Bengal tiger used cunning, aggression, and manipulation to rise to power, but also played the loving mother to four litters of cubs. As the captivating cat's life nears its end, "Tiger Dynasty" recounts her triumphs and struggles.
The fish cat
The distinctive markings on Machli's cheek resemble fish bones and inspired her name, which means "fish" in the local language. She and her two sisters were raised in India's Ranthambore National Park amid vibrant woodlands, scenic lakes, and ancient ruins. Young Machli rose to power by challenging her sisters and their mother. Triumphant in their sparring matches, she soon found herself alone with unfamiliar threats. The 2-year-old tiger lacked knowledge and experience, but an innocent-looking sloth bear taught her an important life lesson with his surprising speed and massive claws.
As a top cat, Machli attracted a strong mate named Bamboo Ram. Although tiger moms are single parents and many lose their first cubs, Machli kept her two male cubs safe and secure. She famously killed a full-grown crocodile during one of her hunting sessions.
Bamboo Ram disappeared -- perhaps a victim of poachers -- and left the cubs vulnerable to incoming males, who often kill the previous litter. Newcomer Nick seemed like a serious threat because he heavily outweighed Machli, but the fierce mama disarmed him with a strategic cut to the pad of his paw.
At 2 years old, Machli's first litter of cubs formed a cozy family until she nudged them toward independence. Although her days of nursing were long over, the cubs suckled in a touching farewell scene. Like their father, the cubs vanished amid rumors of poachers in the area.
The next generation
As the most successful tigress in Ranthambore, Machli raised four litters of cubs. Her final litter of three girls mirrored the beginning of her reign. As 13-year-old Machli's combative lifestyle finally took its toll; she watched her middle daughter overpower her siblings. The two then had a short sparring match before Machli conceded her glorious realm to the new generation.
The elderly cat lost all her canine teeth, making it difficult to capture food. Many tigers die by age 10, but her feisty persona prevailed. At nearly 15, she reclaimed a tiny portion of her previous realm in an area rumored to be her birthplace. Machli brought joy to millions and raised awareness of the endangered Bengal tigers' plight. It is only fitting that she retire in a lakeside area rich with food, cool water, and shady trees.
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