How smart is a tiger?

How smart is a tiger?

Very smart, in the tiger’s own way. Here is a first hand observation:

I was on an elephant (the only means to go off road other than on foot), ambling through a forest in the Kanha tiger reserve, visibility 200′. On the forest floor is a dense undergrowth about 6′ high, visibility 50′. I saw a Sambar about 150′ ahead, upwind. The Sambar was not disturbed by the loud noises the elephant was making over the thick layer of dry dead leaves carpeting the forest floor, and kept on feeding.

On the other hand, it is highly sensitive to the tiny sounds made by a tiger when stalking prey. At the slightest hint of such a sound – a snap of a twig, a rustle of dry leaves, bird flying off – the Sambar would tense up, stomp on the ground, emit a honking alarm call, then dash away. In fact, it is the alarm calls of Sambar and Cheetal, and Langur monkeys, that often alert us to the presence of a tiger, or leopard, at or near the location where the alarm call is emitted.

Something orange-yellow caught my eyes. I looked down, and, lo and behold, there were not one but two tigers stalk-walking alongside the elephant, one on each side. They paid no attention to me whatsoever, but were in a stealth mode, nose pointed rigidly in the direction of the Samba, body lowered, tense as a drawn bow, in slow motion. Since we were going upwind, and due to the limited visibility on ground level, the tigers could smell the Samba, but not see it.

Picture by Anthony Marr, @ the Kanha Tiger Reserve, India, 1998

Due to the noise caused by the elephant, the Samba could not hear the tigers, and due to the wind direction, could not smell them either. I then realized that the tigers were using the noise made by the elephants to cover up the tiny sounds that they themselves made.

Picture by Anthony Marr, @ the Kanha Tiger Reserve, India, 1998

Finally, we went within 50′ of the Samba, and, as if by agreement, both tigers shot forward towards the Samba. The Sambar honked loudly, while turning to dash away, with the tigers in hot pursuit. Soon, they were lost to view. I never did find out if the Samba got away or not, but I was amazed by the intelligence of the tiger.

Picture by Anthony Marr, @ the Kanha Tiger Reserve, India, 1998

Anthony Marr, Founder and President
Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE)
Global Anti-Hunting Coalition (GAHC) (AM’s 3rd-book-in-the-making)


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