A legend from Nagaland relates that the mother of the first spirit, the first Tiger and the first man came out of the earth through a Pangolin’s den. Man and Tiger are seen as brothers, one in human shape and the other striped. One stayed at home while the other went to live in the forest, but one day they met in the forest and were forced to fight. The man tricked the Tiger and killed it with a poisoned dart. The Tiger’s body floated downstream, where it was caught in the reeds. The God Dingu – Aneni saw that the bones had come from a human womb and sat on them for ten years, as a result hundreds of Tigers were born.
The legend is typical of the belief that the Tiger and Man are closely connected, being born of the same mother. The concept of the The Tigers of man and the humanness of the Tiger recurs again and again throughout the vast tracts of Land where the tiger has roamed.
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Though slim and elegant, tigers are immensely powerful. Their front legs and paws are tremendously strong: they can kill young elephants and rhino and drag prey weighing 200 kg. (5001 Ibs.) Or more. Tigers walk on the fore pads of their feet, which gives their stride suppleness and elasticity. They have flexible forelegs that can twist inwards, allowing them to grasp prey. Their claws remain retracted until they are needed in the final moments of attack.
Explore this big cat on our special tiger safari journeys to Bandhavgarh National Park.
Tigers are famed for their glowing amber eyes. Unlike most other cats, they have round pupils. Tigers have acute eyesight and the cells in their eyes are sensitive to color. They can perceive depth because their eyes, face forwards, thus allowing direction and distance to be judged with extreme accuracy. Tigers, like all cats, have a special adaptation that gives them excellent night vision: a membrane at the back of the eye reflects light through the light sensitive cells of the retina. This effectively doubles the intensity of dim light. The same principle is used in the “cats’ eyes” on our roads.
Scent forms the basis for territorial behavior. Tigers keep track of each other’s movements by scent marking, which helps them to avoid conflict. To make the best use of information contained in a scent mark, the tiger has to hang out its tongue and draw back the lips, causing the eyes to close. This is called the flehmen response and it allows the tiger to pass the scent through two small holes in the upper palate behind the incisors in effect the tiger can “test” his scent. To human eyes, the expression looks like a grimace of disgust.
Tigers can kill prey that exceeds their own weight. A tiger can eat over 30 kgs (66lvbs) of meat in a single night, though a large kill me be needed only once or twice a week. In the meantime, snacks such a peacock, crabs turtles, fish, lizards, small birds or even locusts will suffice. Tigers are not exclusively carnivorous and will sometimes eat jungle fruits. Their stomachs often contain earth, and he is probably ingested to aid digestion.
In India, hog deer, chital (spotted deer), barking deer, sambar, nilgai and wild boar are the favorite prey, though tigers will also kill jungle ox and even young elephants and rhino of up to 450 kgs (1000 lbs) in weight. Tigers will seek to porcupines, even though these prickly creatures have a nasty habit of backing into a pursuer in order to drive in their spines. Injuries from porcupines may fester and can even cause the death of a tiger.
Tigers tend to hunt between dusk and dawn. They are less active during the day and may lie satiated in the shade or in a pool near the remains of a kill. Tigers often cover an unfinished meal with soil and leaves and return to it later. Even so, scavengers are quick to take advantage, though they risk annoying the owner of the kill. A tiger was photographed pouncing on a vulture in sheer exasperation and an irritable tiger will even chase away crows.
Sight and sound, rather than scent, are used to locate prey. Tigers are too large and too heavy to run for long distances and therefore must patiently stalk their prey until they are close enough to make a final lunge for the neck. Effective camouflage is essential and in patches of sunshine and shade a motionless tiger is practically invisible. Despite being one of the most feared of the world’s predators, tigers are often unsuccessful in catching their prey. Prey species have acute hearing and many run faster than a tiger. Some have alarm calls that warn all the animals in the vicinity to be wary. If the tiger fails in a hunting attempt it must move to another area or wait until the forest becomes calm again.
It is interesting to compare this technique with those used in more open habitats where there is not enough cover to conceal a stalking predator. In the African Savannahs, for example, cheetahs have developed unsurpassed speed and prides of lions have learnt to hunt cooperatively. The remains of a kill are also more difficult to conceal, and any left uneaten will be quickly finished off by scavengers. Cooperative hunters therefore share the kill amongst themselves, so that nothing is wasted on those animals who are looking for a free lunch. The development of different hunting strategies to suit habitat types is part of a process known as optimization.
Tiger behavior is flexible and the choice of prey, as well as the technique for catching on, will be influenced by how plentiful the prey is and how easily it is caught. Tigers in areas where the vegetation is less dense are more likely to hunt large prey cooperatively and to share their kill. This was the case in Ranthambore National Park during the 1980s. Up to nine tigers were seen lying together in a social group, just like a pride of lions. The tiger was observed sharing their prey not only with their young, but also with other adults. Rather than a strict hierarchy, it seems that the titer that makes the kill always gets the first meal, even if the other tigers present are larger.