One of the most important teachers I had regarding tiger behavor was an amazing video clip of an attack by a Bengal tigress in northeast India's Kaziranga National Park. In this clip, wardens on elephants can be seen trying to shoot the tigress with a tranquilizer gun until, finally, she gets fed up. What is significant about the tigress's response to this harassment is her mode of attack: when a cat is hunting for food, it typically attacks from behind, using the element of surprise. But when a tiger is attacking an adversary — driving off a competitor or fighting an enemy — it usually approaches head-on, as this tigress does (and as The Tiger did). One of many things that really impressed me about this video was how the tigress emerges from the long grass like a shark swimming up out of the depths — and then erupts — flying over the top of the elephant — jumping "as high as it needs to."
You can watch it here.
By stopping the motion of the video as incrementally as I could, I was able to scrutinize every stage of her amazing leap and impact, paying particular attention to the interplay of paws, jaws, and tail. Then I tried to assemble everything I'd read, heard, and seen (see yesterday's blog entry) into word-pictures that would be clear to people who'd never seen or thought much about attacking tigers. The analogy I came up with to describe how a tiger organizes itself into such a deadly weapon was a basketball team (see p. 27 in the book).
In fact, there is a postscript to this video that I found even more amazing than the attack itself. You can read it here.
I was very moved by the female elephant's response to the tigress — her clear intention to subdue the cat, but not to kill or injure her. I couldn't help wondering if the elephant's response would have been different had she and/or the tigress been male. It has also inspired me to read The Jungle Book again with fresh eyes.
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John Vaillant is also the author of The Golden Spruce. He has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Outside, National Geographic, and Men’s Journal, among others. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with his wife and children.
Books mentioned in this post
John Vaillant is the author of The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival