Do male tigers play dad after all? Camera trap captures rare family portrait of Amur tiger couple with their three cubs in the wild

A portrait of a rare Amur tiger family captured on film in the wild has provided clues that the notoriously solitary male big cats may play a role in rearing cubs.

Scientists have long believed that the large adult males tend to leave females to raise their young and they are known to even attack and kill cubs when they come across them.

However, in an astonishing new set of images captured by a camera trap in the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve in eastern Russia, a large male Amur tiger is seen leading a family of three cubs and their mother through the snowy forest.

The images could help scientists learn new details of the role male tigers play in rearing their young. 

Dr Svetlana Soutyrina, deputy director for scientific programs at the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve who set the camera traps, said: 'We have collected hundreds of photos of tigers over the years, but this is the first time we have recorded a family together.

'These images confirm that male Amur tigers do participate in family life, at least occasionally, and we were lucky enough to capture one such moment.'

There have been a few rare examples of male Bengal tigers taking an active role in parenting in the past but it has never been seen in Amur tigers.

In 2011 a male was found to be caring for a pair of orphaned cubs in the Ranthambore tiger reserve in Rajasthan, India.

However, such behaviour is extremely rare and more commonly male tigers will kill the cubs of another male to reduce competition.

After mating male tigers tend to leave a female to rear the cubs herself but will provide protection for them while they remain inside his territory.

Large males will often have several females in their territory. 

In some rare cases they have also been seen to kill prey to feed his family.

The pictures were captured as part of a project between the Wildlife Conservation Society's Russia Program, the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve and Udegeiskaya Legenda National Park.

Camera traps set up in the forest captured the family in a series of 21 images over a period of two minutes as they walked past. 

The resulting images were then stitched together to show the family as a whole. 

Jonathan Slaght, , Russia Program Project Manager for the Wildlife Conservation Society, said: 'Male Amur tigers, which have home ranges that typically overlap the home ranges of several females, try to associate with those females as they patrol their own territories.

'An adult male might pass through a female’s territory every one or two months so, if the male and female were to meet up every time, this behavior might occur 6-12 times per year.

'However, considering that an adult male Amur tiger has a home range between 1,000-2,000 square kilometers, and an adult female has a territory about 400 square kilometers, having a camera trap in the right place at the right time to document this—especially with young in tow—is incredibly rare. 

'In fact, this behaviour of an adult male Amur tiger traveling with a family unit of a female and her cubs has never been photographed before.' 

Amur tigers are among the most endangered big cats in the world - thee are just 430-500 left remaining in the wild.

Dr Dale Miquelle, Russia director for Wildlife Conservation Society, said: 'This is the first time such behaviour has been photographed for Amur tigers in the wild.

'These photos provide a small vignette of social interactions of Amur tigers, and provide an evocative snapshot of life in the wild for these magnificent animals.'