The majestic tiger was once found in large numbers all over the subcontinent. It was feared, misunderstood, admired, and even worshiped as the vehicle of goddess Durga. In our own times, when man has all but wiped out this wonderful animal, few of us know what a tiger is like up close…
At a time when tigers were hunted in the name of sport, the Maharaja of Dholpur ordered a beat. Some two hundred men formed a wide semicircle, beating drums and canisters in order to flush out the tiger hiding in the undergrowth and drive him towards the hunters waiting in a vehicle at the opposite end. But the tiger in question had other ideas. Instead of running towards the vehicle, he whipped around and tore through the line of beaters.
In doing so, its right fore paw landed on the head of one of the beaters. There was a sickening sound of bones being crushed and the luckless man’s head and neck simply disappeared within the thoracic cavity.
The tiger has phenomenal strength but doesn’t use strength alone to knock down its prey. Essentially a loner, he believes in stealth and ambush. Thus he approaches his prey up-wind, so his smell won’t give him away. And he patiently stalks his prey, advancing very, very slowly, ears laid back, legs drawn under him, belly to the ground, waiting and watching for the right moment. In the process the tiger takes advantage of every scrap of cover that the surrounding bushes and creepers can afford. Finally, rising to a crouching position, muscles superbly coordinated and taut with a purpose, he makes a lightning charge. A tiger most often attacks its prey from behind. Laying his chest against the back of the animal, the tiger grabs the neck with his canines. As a rule, the sheer weight of the tiger is enough to snap the backbone of the victim. But should follow-up action be necessary, it includes driving the claws into the trachea and hanging on till the animal is choked to death. The tiger makes good use of its formidable, retractable claws in capturing and holding on to its prey. It looks after those claws too, by sharpening them on tree trunks.
Like a hunter anywhere, the tiger is merciless, showing no quarter to his victims. But then, unlike man, he does not kill for sport. He kills to survive. A tigress kills for herself and to sustain her liter. If lives are lost and blood is shed on the forest floor, it is a part of nature’s plan. Should tigers suddenly have a change of heart and turn vegetarian, their prey species would multiply without let or hindrance, upsetting the balance of nature. At the same time, since a tiger kills only to satisfy a basic biological need, there is no danger of tigers wiping out a particular prey species.
But a bit more about the tiger’s eating habits, more particularly, his table manners. Having made a kill, he generally drags it to the shade of a bush where he can eat in peace. He starts feeding from the rump and hind legs and is a clean feeder. Opening the stomach cavity with one swift movement of its claws, almost surgical in precision, he removes the stomach and intestines and is known to carry the lot some distance away and dump it. If the kill is large enough, a tiger may feed on it for 4 – 5 days. In the process he despatches all the flesh, small bones, skin and hair. The hair in fact provides the roughage in the tiger’s diet, helping the process of digestion. Having eaten his fill, a tiger may hide the kill and return to it later. Sometimes, being completely satiated, he may not hunt at all for a day or two.
The tiger is a nocturnal animal. Since he avoids the heat and the direct rays of the sun, most of the daylight hours are spent holed up near a nullah, lazing in shallow water or snatching some sleep in the cool of a clump of bamboo. Hunting time is dusk or later, sometimes just before the crack of dawn. But hunting in our tangled forests is no cakewalk. Only one in ten attempts leads to a successful kill. True, the tiger himself is not easy to spot, given his coloring and the black stripes that blend so perfectly with the general pattern of light and shade in the forest. But the forest has its own team of watchmen — the kakar, langur and jungle babbler — who are quick to spot a carnivore on the move and lose no time giving out the alarm call. The prey species too are alert, with a highly developed instinct for self preservation.
Out in the wilds, a tiger is not necessarily an unfriendly animal. Two adult males have been known to rub heads together in passing. But the fact remains that the tiger is a territorial animal, marking its domain by spraying the trees around, much like a dog. The tiger safeguards its territory, too, by constantly patrolling and with the help of that great thunderous roar which, coming from an adult tiger, can be heard all of three kilometers away. An intruder into a tiger’s territory is more than likely to meet with death. For this offence, many leopards has been killed and devoured.
The renowned authority on tigers, Valmik Thapar, as all praise for the mother tiger. According to him, she devotes every minute of the first two years of the cubs” life to feeding and caring for them. From suckling the cubs to providing them with a diet of fresh meat, this is certainly not an easy task. She not only hunts for them but, at a kill, keeps exposing the tender inner layers of meat for her children to eat. Should the tiger sense danger to her babies, she’ll gently pick them up by the neck and carry them to the new den, one by one.
A tiger learns all his skills from his mother. Thus she keeps twitching her tail from side to side so the cub may learn to stalk a moving animal. She teaches them how to attack, when to attack and when to give a wide berth. A tigress and her cubs may play endless family games but she is quick to reprimand them with a low growl or a light cuff with one paw, should a reprimand be called for. The cubs spend two years with the mother and then separate. Sometimes siblings tend to stay together for longer but sooner or later they go, each his own way.
The droppings of adult male tigers have sometimes revealed baby tiger claws, leading to the widespread belief that a male tiger will not hesitate to devour its own offspring. Valmik Thapar reports a case where a male tiger visited his family every four or five days and took an active part in providing them with food. There was no question of practicing infanticide. However, if a tigress loses the mate who sired her litter and takes on another mate, the new father is likely to make short work of his foster cubs. Simply because he wants to father his own and the tigress will not be ready to reproduce again till the first litter is grown up and no longer needs her.
The legendary hunter-naturalist, Jim Corbett, has done much to put the record straight in favor of the tiger. According to Corbett, no tiger is by instinct a cattle lifter or man-eater because neither cattle nor man form part of his normal diet. But sometimes a tiger is driven to attack them because he cannot stalk or hunt down his natural prey, either on account of old age or a serious injury. Normally a tiger cleans his wounds with his tongue and they heal fast enough. But if the injury is deep, as that caused by porcupine quills or a stray bullet lodged in the flesh, or if one of his limbs is broken, the tiger is helpless. Unable to run and driven by pangs of hunger, the tiger attacks the easiest prey — cattle and man. Thus cattle lifters and man-eaters are made, not born. The celebrated wildlife photographers Naresh and Rajesh Bedi who have made some spellbinding films on the tiger, once trailed a tigress for the purpose in Kanha National Park. They were never more than 30 to 50 feet away from the animal but she allowed their team to follow her closely because they had spent a lot of time with her and she had got used to them. But also because she had a good temper. Never follow a tiger if it is stalking its prey! warns Naresh Bedi.
No story about the tiger is complete without mention of the Royal Bengal Tiger, living in the mangrove forests known as the Sunderbans. Quite simply, the Royal Bengal Tiger is magnificent to look at, reddish brown in color and with broad black stripes on his head and back. He has adapted himself beautifully to life in an estuary, where the fresh water of streams mingles with the salt water of the sea. Thus, it is lightly built and smaller than others of its kind, and the only semi aquatic tiger anywhere in the world. And that speaks volumes, for the tiger, any tiger, is an expert swimmer anyway, known to cross a mile wide river in a straight line! The Sunderbans tiger is happy to hunt in water because he enjoys a diet of fish, crabs and turtles! Unfortunately, this tiger carries a man-eater tag and several reasons have been advanced for his reputation. People like grass cutter, wood and honey gatherers must, of necessity, venture in to the mangrove forests. Often, these men disturb a sleeping tiger or worse, a tigress with cubs, and do not live to tell the tale. Sometimes, when the Sunderbans tiger sees fishermen carrying home the day’s catch, he either dives headlong into the boat or tilts it to help himself to the booty. In the ensuing scuffle, some fishermen do get killed. Experts concede that the Sunderbans tiger probably has a taste for human flesh, having drunk so long at the saline estuarine waters. It has been observed that these tigers seldom drink at any of the eleven fresh water tanks in that area. A significant detail, but who shall vouch for the truth?
Well I hope that after reading this you have gained a little bit more knowledge about the tigers in India and also have realized that for the most part they are not man-eaters unless need be. What animal doesn’t get mad or defensive when disturbed sleeping (I know I do). Or even worst what mother is not overly protective of her kids/young. When you have an animal that is this powerful you are going to have people killed by it. I am sure you can tell that I am very fond of the tiger that is why this paper is so long but I felt that a lot of this info was important and I figured what the heck I had four days to work on it.