Chapter IX


The Special Qualities of Tiger and Tigress

Now I am going to tell you a few more things about the tiger, from which you will realize what a wonderful animal he is.

First, the tiger's size. The finest specimen of the tiger is the Royal Bengal tiger. Such a tiger, when full grown, is sometimes seven feet long, without including the tail; the tail is usually half as long as the body. The tigress is slightly smaller.

In height a Bengal tiger often measures three and a half feet from the shoulder to the ground; so his head would be more than four feet from the ground. Hence, if you take his length into account, you will understand that the tiger is really the largest feline or animal of the Cat Tribe.

I do not think that you have often seen a really large tiger in the zoo. Most of the tigers in a zoo were caught as cubs; that is, the mother or the father was shot by hunters, and the cubs were captured alive.

Now, just think. If a human child were locked up in a room all his life, without any exercise, then he would be very stunted and small, even when he had reached the age of a man. So a tiger cub, brought up in a cage all its life, never grows to its proper size. For this reason most of the tigers in a zoo are much smaller than those tigers that grow up in the jungle.

The most wonderful thing about the tiger is his strength; he is the strongest animal of the Cat Tribe. That is proved by the way in which he carries his prey. If the prey be a deer or a man, he seizes the prey in his jaws by the middle of the body—just as a cat seizes a mouse! And the tiger carries such a prey in that manner to his den, which may be more than a mile away.

But a heavy animal, such as a cow, he carries in a different manner. Yes, a tiger carries away a cow; he does not merely drag it along the ground, as a lion does. This is the way the tiger carries a cow, after killing it:

He first seizes the cow in his jaws by the back of its neck. Then he rears up on his hind legs and swings the cow over his shoulder on to his back—just as a man swings a loaded sack on to his back. Then the tiger stands on all four legs again, and trots along with his burden. Of course, he still holds the neck of the cow in his jaws, just as the man carrying the sack holds the upper end of the sack in his hand.

I shall now finish with tigers by telling you three stories,—true stories, of course. From these stories you will understand that tigers and tigresses sometimes have the same kind of feelings that we have.

Both Tiger and Tigress Defend their Cubs

I have told you that in a tiger family, when the cubs are very young, they must be guarded all the time by either their father or their mother. One day it happened that a tiger had killed a bullock. As he could not carry it to his den, he first ate enough of the bullock to satisfy his hunger. Then he came home to his den, and sent the tigress out to eat her share, while he guarded their two cubs in the den.

But three English officers had gone hunting in the jungle, each of them on an elephant; and it so happened that they came toward the tiger's den.

The three hunters saw the tiger and the two cubs he was guarding. The hunters knew that if they killed the tiger they could catch the two cubs alive. So they fired their guns at once at the tiger; and as they were then only about a hundred yards away, they all hit the tiger.

Now, if the tiger had not had the cubs to defend, there would not have been much of a fight. Why? Because, as I shall tell you later, it usually takes much more than three hunters on three elephants to hunt one tiger. Each of the three wounds the tiger got might have killed or disabled any other wild animal; but instead, the three wounds together only made the tiger furious.

If he had been alone, he would have come like a flash of lightning at the nearest elephant, leaped upon its back, and killed the hunter on it—before the hunter could shoot again. Of course, the other two hunters could then kill the tiger; but the tiger would at least have killed one of the hunters.

That is exactly what the tiger would have done, if he had been alone. But the tiger had his children to defend. He must try to guard them as well as he could. So he just took one of the cubs in his mouth—as you have seen a cat take up her kitten—and leaped with the cub over a thicket and hid the cub there.

Then he leaped back to the den to take away the second cub. That gave the three hunters enough time to load and take aim again. So all three of the hunters fired at the tiger again, just as he was lifting up the second cub; and the bullets went through his heart. If he had been any other animal, he would have dropped dead right there. But a tiger lives about three seconds after he ought to be dead; and in those three seconds he can give just one leap and kill anything.

But the hunters were beyond his reach. So he gave that one leap toward them, and tore up the ground instead, as he could not tear up the men; then he agreed to lie down and be truly dead.

The three hunters got down from their elephants and came to the den. They found that one of the last bullets had passed right through the tiger's body, and had killed the cub he was trying to carry to safety. The hunters were sorry that the cub had been killed. So they searched for the first cub, which the tiger had hidden behind the thicket. They found the cub and took it with them.

Tiger protecting his cub
Tiger protecting his cub

The hunters mounted their elephants and came back to their tent, where they had been staying. They put a dog's steel collar around the neck of the cub, and tied him up to the tent post by a chain. The cub was so frightened and helpless that it lay down on the ground and was very quiet. The three men sat down in the tent and chatted for a while.

Suddenly they heard a terrible roar outside. They snatched up their guns, but they could not tell from which side the roar came—just as when you hear a terrible clap of thunder close by, you cannot tell from which side the thunder comes. And hearing this roar, the cub jumped up and yelped in answer; and he tugged at his chain furiously. He had become a little tiger in his nature.

Suddenly a huge yellow form shot into the tent. It was a tigress. She seized the cub's collar in her mouth, and snapped the chain with a tug, like a piece of thread. The next second she leaped out of the tent with the cub, and vanished. And the three men had not had time to aim a gun. None of them really wished to.

Yes, she was the mother of the cub. When she had returned home from dinner, she had found her home broken up—her husband killed, one of her children killed, and the other child stolen. So, all that she could do was to regain her lost child by tracing it by its scent.

This she did. She regained her cub even by facing the same guns that had killed her husband. For a tigress mother, like any other mother in the jungle, will face death to save her child.

The Tiger Family's Lost Dinner

Now I shall tell you another true story. It will show you what sort of a husband and father in everyday life a tiger is.

Near a jungle there was a river. At a special place in the river there was a bend. It was a good place for fishing, as the water there had plenty of fish.

One afternoon two men went to fish there with fishing rods. As there was a jungle about a mile from the place, the men took their guns with them, in case any wild animals came from the jungle to attack them.

After a time one of the men hooked a fish. It must have been a big fish, as it tugged at the line furiously. The man who had hooked the fish had to run along the bank of the river to play the fish, while his friend kept shouting to him to advise him what to do. In this way both the men were busy, and forgot to think of anything else.

Suddenly they saw a flash of yellow. It came straight from a bush toward the man who had hooked the fish. It was a tiger!

The tiger must have stalked the two men silently from the jungle; and in that way he must have crept up to the bush, while the two men were busy trying to land the fish.

The tiger gave a rush and a leap, and fell upon the man who had hooked the fish. He grabbed the man and leaped back with him into the bush, before the other man could snatch up his gun and take aim to save his friend.

Now you will remember what I told you: that a tiger carries a man in his jaws just as a cat carries a mouse; that is, the tiger holds the man by the middle of his body, about the waist.

Luckily the man was wearing a waistband of thick cloth; so the tiger's fangs did not hurt the man very severely, as the fangs happened to bite the thick waistband. But still the man had been stunned by the shock when the tiger had leaped upon him. And the tiger thought that he had killed the man outright. That was very lucky for the man—as you will understand presently.

The man regained his senses while the tiger was still carrying him. He knew at once that he was in the jaws of a tiger. That is perhaps the most terrible danger for a man to be in. Few men have ever been in the very jaws of a tiger in the heart of the jungle—and yet have escaped.

The man knew that, and so he was terribly frightened. But life is so precious that one must never despair of saving his life. If you are in the most terrible danger, you must never give up hope. You must try to find some way of escape.

So the man began thinking, even while the tiger was carrying him. He made up his mind at once. He must pretend to be dead. So he did not move or make the least bit of sound. Even then he did not see how he could escape, as the tiger would soon start eating him! But still he would not despair.

The tiger carried the man to his den in the jungle. The den was just a hollow in the ground under a large tree. The tiger dumped the man into the hollow. The man thought his end had now come. He could not escape from right in front of the tiger's eyes. And he thought that the tiger would start eating him at once. Even though he was really alive, the tiger would eat him just the same.

But, to his surprise, the tiger did not start eating him at once. Instead, the tiger looked around, and gave a purr, and then a growl. What did that mean? The man could not tell.

Then the tiger just flung upon the man some of the sand from the side of the hollow. The man understood that: the tiger was trying to hide or cache his food—as some wild animals do.

But luckily the tiger only flung the sand loosely over the man, just enough to cover him; he did not quite bury the man; or else the man might have been smothered. Then the tiger ran off into the jungle.

The man was puzzled to know what the tiger meant by that. But you may be sure the man did not wait to work out the puzzle in his mind. Instead, he jumped up from the hollow. Here was his chance to escape!

But he was afraid to run far; for the tiger might return at any moment and catch him again. So the man just climbed up the tree under which the den was. And he went up the tree as high as he could, and hid himself among the leaves.

After a while he heard a sound below, at a little distance. He looked down and saw the tiger returning. But now there was a tigress with him, and two cubs.

Then the man understood the puzzle. When the tiger had brought home the dinner, he had found that his wife and children were out. So he waited a while; and as they still did not come home, he first looked around for them, and then he gave a loud call to his family to come to dinner. That was the purr and growl he gave.

As they still did not come home, the tiger just hid the dinner to keep it safe, and then he went out to fetch his family home to dinner.

But when he did fetch them, the dinner had run away! Then the tiger family set up such a wail and lament over the lost dinner!

"I felt quite sorry for them," said the man up in the tree, afterward. "They kept up the wailing and growling and lamenting for a long time. Only, as it was I who was to have been the tigers' dinner, I wasn't so very sorry that the dinner had escaped!"

Meanwhile, the other man who had been fishing with him had run to the nearest village. The villagers got together a herd of bull buffaloes, and started tracking the tiger by the paw marks he had made on the ground. In this way the villagers brought the bull buffaloes to the tiger's den.

The bull buffaloes soon drove away the tiger family. The villagers expected to see only the man's bones or half-eaten body. But still they had come to make quite sure of the man's fate.

What was their delight, then, to hear a shout, as soon as the tiger family had been driven away! The shout came from the tree. It was from the man who had been carried away by the tiger. You may be quite sure that he was very glad to climb down and go home with the villagers.

Now, my dear children, I have told you this story—and it is a true story—for two reasons. First, it shows you that you must never give up hope, even in the worst danger. If a man can escape from the very jaws of a tiger in the heart of the jungle, he may be able to escape from other dangers.

The second thing I want you to learn is that, bad as he is supposed to be, a tiger is really a good husband and a good father, even in ordinary everyday life. When he had earned the dinner, and had brought it home, he found that his family was out. He might have started eating the dinner himself. Instead, he waited for his family to return, then he called out to them, and then he went to fetch them—without eating a bite himself. How many men would do that?

The Tiger as a Heroic Husband

Now I shall tell you another true story, which will show you in a different manner what a wonderful animal the tiger is. It is the story of a great tiger hunt.

A few years ago Prince Henry of Orleans was one of the greatest hunters in the world. He had hunted lions and wild elephants in Africa, and also other big wild animals. Then he went to India, hoping to hunt tigers.

There he was the guest of a rajah, that is, a sort of king. So the rajah arranged a tiger hunt for Prince Henry. In a jungle near by there were many wild animals. On the north side of the jungle there was a shallow ravine, only about ten feet deep, and as wide as a street. The ravine started from the jungle and went northward. Beyond the jungle the ravine ran for only about a hundred yards; beyond that the ground was level again.

It was right there on the level ground, in front of the ravine, that the rajah placed the hunters. The hunters were mounted on thirty elephants, two hunters on each elephant; so there were sixty hunters altogether. The two hunters on each elephant sat in a kind of big box, called a howdah. The box was tied fast on the elephant's back with strong ropes passed all round the elephant.

Meanwhile about a thousand men started toward the jungle from the fields on the south side of the jungle. As they came near the jungle, the men made a loud noise with drums. So all the timid animals in the jungle took fright and began to run away. These timid animals were the deer, the antelope, the wild pigs, the wild goats, and other small animals. They ran away into the open country on the right side and left side, that is, toward the east and the west.

Then as the thousand men came still nearer the jungle from the south side, they began to stretch out in a long line to the right and to the left. And then the men bent forward the two ends of the line in a curve toward the jungle. In that way they began to enclose the jungle, as fishermen enclose fish in a net. The men now made a still louder noise by firing their guns. At this the bigger and more obstinate animals in the jungle began to run away.

By this time the men had enclosed the jungle on three sides—the south, the east, and the west—until only the north side of the jungle was still open. And that was where the ravine started from the jungle northward.

The big animals ran along the ravine to escape from the jungle. But they did not know that the sixty hunters on the thirty elephants were waiting for them at the end of the ravine.

So as each animal emerged at the far end of the ravine, it was shot by the hunters. At first these animals were leopards, bears, wolves, and a few small tigers.

Then something wonderful happened, as I shall now tell you. In that jungle there was a big tiger and a tigress. They had recently been married, that is, the tigress had chosen the tiger as her husband—for in the jungle it is usually the wife who chooses the husband. So the tiger was very attentive to the tigress. Wherever she went, he always walked with her to protect her. He also caught the prey for her, sometimes alone and sometimes with her help.

This big tiger and tigress were in the jungle, when they heard the noise of drums and guns that the men were making. Being the most obstinate animal in the jungle, the big tiger did not want to move at all. But perhaps he thought that it would be best for his wife to go away from that jungle. So she and he went into the ravine, hoping to escape.

But they too did not know that the sixty hunters were waiting at the end of the ravine to shoot them as soon as they emerged.

So the tiger and tigress walked calmly through the ravine, and emerged into the open country at the end of it.

Now I must tell you that in a tiger hunt of this kind the guest of honor has the place of danger, which was in this case right in front of the ravine. So Prince Henry waited right there on his elephant, and the hunters on the other elephants were placed in a line on his right side and left side.

This is what happened. When the tiger and tigress emerged from the ravine, they suddenly saw the line of hunters blocking their path. At the same time the hunters also saw the tiger and tigress. Now I must tell you that it is a rule that only the front man on each elephant may fire his gun at once, and the man with him must reserve his shot, in case the front man misses and the tiger comes nearer. So, as soon as they saw the tiger and tigress, the thirty front men on the thirty elephants fired their guns.

But it takes at least a second for the quickest man to aim his gun and fire; and a tiger can make up his mind to do something, and do it, in less than a second. So in that time the tiger told his wife what to do.

I do not know what language tigers use among themselves, but she understood what he meant. And she did it!

This is what she did. Like a flash of lightning she leaped toward the side. So when the hail of thirty bullets came, she was not there where the hunters had aimed. Not a single bullet hit her. And in the same instant the tiger had also leaped—but onward. Some of the bullets wounded him, but not very severely, as the hunters did not have time to aim exactly.

Tiger Charging Hunting Party
Tiger Charging Hunting Party

He knew that he must engage the attention of all the sixty men to give his wife enough time to escape. So, wounded as he was, he leaped again, straight onward.

Then the thirty men who had reserved their shot saw a terrible sight. They saw the tiger coming straight toward the nearest elephant—Prince Henry's elephant, right in front of the ravine. The thirty men pointed their guns at the tiger. They may have vaguely seen that the tigress was escaping; but their whole anxiety was about the terrible tiger leaping straight toward them.

All the thirty men fired at him. But as the tiger was leaping onward all the time, they could not take aim properly. So if any of the bullets wounded the tiger again, the wounds were not severe.

The tiger came to the elephant on which Prince Henry was. With a huge bound the tiger leaped upward toward the box on the elephant.

So far the elephant had stood still. Being well trained, he knew that he must not move while the men on him were firing; they must do the fighting. But when the tiger had apparently beaten all the men and was actually leaping on him, the elephant had a new duty to do: he must swerve aside. So the elephant swerved aside just as the tiger was alighting on the box on his back.

So the tiger missed his aim; instead of landing right upon the box and killing the two men instantly, his paws only reached the elephant's head. Into the elephant's head he dug his claws, and tried to scramble up.

On the neck of the elephant the mahout had been seated. He was not a hunter, but only the man who guides the elephant. So when he saw the tiger leaping upon the elephant, the mahout just dropped off on the other side, and escaped into the bushes. The tiger could have jumped down on him and killed him; but the tiger scorned to touch so humble a prey. He wanted instead to get at the hunters, who had tried to kill him and his wife.

So the tiger dug his claws on the elephant's head, paw over paw, and tried to climb up to the elephant's back. Maddened with the pain, the elephant began to rock and sway. The two men on the box could not use their guns again, as they had to clutch the box with both hands, or else they would have been thrown to the ground—then the tiger would have fallen on them and killed them in an instant. The two men could do nothing to save themselves.

The fifty-eight other hunters had now reloaded their guns. Those who were nearest pointed their guns at the tiger.

"Don't shoot!" the rajah cried out. "You might hit the two men!"

That was quite true. For now the elephant was so maddened with terror and with the pain, that he was swaying, bucking, rearing. Nobody could take correct aim at the tiger.

Span by span the tiger climbed up, nearer and nearer to the box. The two helpless men in it saw the tiger's flaming eyes a yard in front of them, and they saw the tiger's fangs crashing together as if to crunch their bones.

A minute more, and these two men must die—in sight of the fifty-eight other hunters.

Then again something wonderful happened. The men could do nothing. But not so the elephant! He could do something!

The elephant recovered from his fright. He remembered all the clever tricks he had learned in his youth in the jungle, like Salar, of whom I have told you in Book I. This elephant remembered what he too could do with his trunk.

So the elephant began to curl his trunk around the tiger's neck. The tiger felt the end of the trunk creeping around his neck.

Then the tiger knew that in the next minute the elephant's trunk would grip him by the neck and tear him off from the elephant's head; and then the elephant would bring him to the ground and trample him to death.

The tiger did not wait for that. He had scorned the sixty men—some of whom were the best hunters of the world—but he was too wise to scorn the elephant. And the tiger knew that by this time his wife must be safe.

So the tiger dropped to the ground, ran past the rear of the elephant, and vanished into the bushes. And while he did that, not one of the hunters had time even to point a gun at him.

Once only did the hunters catch sight of the tiger again. After the tigress had escaped, she must have worked her way around to the thick bushes behind the hunters; and there she must have been waiting for her husband. A few minutes later the men caught a glimpse of the tiger and tigress, husband and wife, walking together leisurely beyond those bushes, across a short open space, toward the next jungle. There they would live in the future.

And as the hunters saw that sight of the tiger and tigress walking away with stately steps beyond the reach of their guns, Prince Henry took off his hat to the tiger!

"Gentlemen, I am glad that he got away!" he said to the other hunters. "I do not think that any man in history has ever charged sixty enemies single-handed, and has gained his purpose—to save the life of one dear to him."

Then Prince Henry wiped his forehead, pretending that he had taken off his hat to do that!

And so the famous tiger hunt was over. It often happens like that, in spite of sixty hunters and a thousand other men: five minutes of thrilling excitement—and then it is all over! I must tell you that if you go to hunt a tiger, even with all that preparation, you never really know whether you are going to hunt the tiger, or the tiger is going to hunt you! And if you do not have elephants to help you, the chances are that the tiger will hunt you.

Men, with all their guns and other inventions, can in some cases be saved from some animals only by other animals—from tigers by elephants and buffaloes, as I have described to you.