Tiger

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,