Note to Visitors: This is a post about tigers and other big cats. There is
an orange Tigers and Cats Playlist, opposite. We believe our science is solid, but what difference should that really make anyway? If some of our conclusions seem dodgy, we ask that you remember this is an age of alternative facts.
One section notes how Ganges Delta foresters ward off tiger attacks from behind, by wearing face masks on the backs of their heads. This seems a fruitful idea to us. Todd, Cyril, and I plan to wear our backwards-facing masks for the next four years whenever we're out and about.
There is something about tigers. Lions are putative jungle kings –– or better, kings of the plains –– but they spend a lot of time catnapping all day. Social animals, they hunt in packs, and once they've fed on kills they drowsily share war stories with their pride before dozing off.
Now tigers, well tigers are solitary and elusive, more likely to pow-pow their ways into our lives when we're not looking. Their basic social unit is a mother and her children, but after two years the mother shoes her still-adolescent offspring out of the den. Fathers, meanwhile, will have taken off long before that, after the birth of the cubs. Except for mating season and when females are carrying their young, the males are scarce.
So for the most part tigers live unsocial lives. You'll not find a group of tigers dozing in the shade; you'll seldom find a group of tigers, period. Whereas you've got a "pride" of lions, a "herd" of buffalo, a "troop" of baboons, the collective noun for tigers is an "ambush" or a "streak." As if tigers were motional processes more than static aggregates.
People who weigh in on the merits of lions vs. tigers think tigers are the real jungle kings, larger than lions and likely to win in a fight. They are accustomed to one-on-one brawling, are more agile, have faster paw-strikes, greater muscle density, and stronger bite force.
Opinions split when it comes to the intelligence of lions versus tigers. The solitary lifestyle of tigers and the sociality of lions inform these opinions.
Some researchers think lions are smarter because intelligence often correlates with the challenges and necessary adaptations that come from living in social groups. A University of Miami study supports this view (click link for video). Researchers locked meat in a puzzle box, then exposed the box to different large carnivores, tasked with opening the box. The animals' finish times in order of fastest to slowest? Hyenas came in first, then lions, then leopards, and finally –– coming in dead last –– tigers.
|Comparison between greatest |
length of skull and cranial volume
amongst leopard (left on the lower
line), and tiger (on the upper line).
(Credit: University of Oxford)
Other researchers disagree with the social-intelligence premise. They believe intelligence is better measured by brain volume than by results from a test. A 2009 article in Science cites an Oxford University study which found that cranial capacity of tigers was sixteen per cent larger than that of lions, relative to their body sizes. The unsocial tiger had a larger brain than the communal lion. (See diagram, opposite.)
What to make of this? To us it suggests that lions scored well on the puzzle-box test not because they're innately smarter than tigers but because they're good test-takers, used to following orders. Lions may simply be conformist joiners working off a script, whereas tigers display a supple intellect.
We're not zoologists but we think tigers probably are the more intelligent of the two large cats –– because it takes a creative leap by tigers to sidestep the state of play, to think outside the puzzle box and ignore the rules altogether, intentionally confounding the research of academicians. Meaning: those puzzle-box tigers chose to fail the test so as to remain less scrutable and classifiable.
|Ganges Delta Forest Workers|
This stealthy hunting style loosely resembles guerrilla tactics that Patriots used against the British redcoats at the Battles of Lexington and Concord, when the Patriots crept up on their enemy and fired at them from behind trees, walls, fences. Related tactics had been earlier employed by Native Americans during colonial wars, notably the French and Indian Wars:
The manner in which Great Lakes Indians fought provides the
greatest contrast between Indian and European warfare. Once
an Indian war party of any size began an attack, each warrior
generally fought on his own. Unlike Europeans, who kept
soldiers in tight ranks under the supervision of sergeants and
officers, Indian men fought as individuals. Like Europeans,
Indian communities had definite goals for their war parties, but
once combat started, Indian men sought to gain recognition
through personal bravery. This usually involved killing an enemy
enemy warrior, and in this fashion Indian men gained reputations
as great warriors. In this way, war was a much more personal
activity for Great Lakes Indians than for Europeans, who called
Indian tactics a "skulking way of war." In reality, it was simply a
different set of tactics.
(Credit: Milwaukee Public Museum)
|Surprise! (1891) (Later title: Tiger in a Tropical Storm)|
Henri Rousseau (French)
(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
|Performing Tigers at Ringling |
Bros. and Barnum & Bailey
Circus (Wikimedia Commons)
|Friendly Tiger, Friendly Lady|
Other atypical companionships involve intra-genus couplings, and these are sexually reproductive. The genus panthera comprises five sister species: panthera tigris (tigers), panthera leo (lions), panthera onca (jaguars), panthera pardus (leopards), panthera uncia (snow leopards). Among these species there are rare reproductive unions between male lions and female tigers (producing ligers), and unions between male tigers and female lions (producing tigons).
Then again, nature sometimes reveals pairings far stranger than ligers and tigons –– highly unnatural pairings. So aberrant that we find ourselves torn between fascination and abhorrence. In this edgy ambivalent spirit we showcase the following in our very own puzzle-box, highlighting it with an orange border but also wisely sequestering it within that border. Best to be vigilant here, some things really ought to be walled in.
|Tigger Ambushes Eeyore|
We appreciate Tigger’s exuberance. True, there are times when he might be more careful, might harness his energies, be more socially appropriate and regimented –– more like a lion. Still, too much caution and he’d no longer be Tigger. He’d be a tamed cat, not the refreshing counterpart to the priggishly conventional and starchy Rabbit.
When we look at this image of Tigger we are gladdened. We get a warm feeling; it traces to the stillness of remembered bedtimes and to memories of reading to children and being read to as children; it also contains a contrary sense of devil-may-care giddiness. Since Tigger is beloved of many, we assume he sparks compelling Hundred Acre Wood memories in others as well, holding their attention and prompting reverie. A most excellent cat, he deserves inclusion within genus panthera as a separate species, a sixth species-sister within the standard panthera canon.
Tigger's canonization would be no whimsical honorific. He and other like-spirited Tiggers have a job to do, which is to be themselves, only more so –– to unrestrainedly bounce as never before. Because right now, in these times, uncomprehending, leaden-eyed fat cats roam the land, the new jungle kings. It's hard to meet them head on and reason with them, they're deeply programmed and have lockstep, granitic dispositions. Clever cats in their way, and probably good test takers, these fat cats are surprisingly incurious, with no questing, imaginative intelligence –– their prime directive being to guard territory and preserve their core fat-cat identity. Other cats, already in or seeking to enter the jungle, are seen by them as interlopers that threaten to sap strength, adulterate identity.
We're not suggesting that Tiggers should ambush the fat cats, knocking them into the river from hidey-holes behind trees, walls, and fences. No, we are hoping instead that the rest of the jungle will applaud the erratic, the off-center, the playful, and will remember that that riot of potentialities is what's most absorbing and colorful about their jungle home. We further hope that in time, at the jungle ballot box, the rest of the jungle will vote out the monotonals.
Pierre Maxo (Haitian)
(Credit: Galerie Macondo)
We'll close with this useful quote from John Lennon:
When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing
the system's game. The establishment will irritate you –– pull your
beard, flick your face –– to make you fight. Because once they've
got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing
they don't know how to handle is non-violence and humor.
(Credit: The Huffington Post, 1/4/2017)