The Tiger Cubs' Lessons
Do tiger children have lessons? Of course they have! Almost all animal children have. You will remember the lessons in Book I which the elephant child had to learn. In the same manner other animal children must learn how to make a living in the jungle, and also how to avoid dangers.
Among tiger children, their lessons begin even when the father and mother are providing them with the food; for, as I have just told you, the children must learn at least which part of the meat to eat, and which not to eat.
But the most important thing they have to learn is how to catch the prey, and how to kill it for themselves—that is, how to provide their own food. Their parents teach them to do that gradually from time to time, in many lessons.
Tiger Cubs Learn to Kill Prey, After their Parents have Caught It
As they are not yet big enough to catch the prey, they are first taught how to kill the prey, after their father or mother has caught it alive for them. And that is another wonder of the jungle, and another good quality of the tiger. If the tiger catches a deer, even the largest kind of deer, he could kill it at one blow, so as to eat it at once. But if the tiger is the father of a young family, he thinks of his family all the time; he remembers that he must not only provide his young children with food, but he must also teach them their lessons.
So when he finds a big red stag, he jumps upon it, but he does not kill it outright. Instead, he merely breaks its hind legs, so that the stag cannot run away. Then he calls the cubs and the mother tigress. The tiger and tigress stand aside, and tell their children to kill the stag. They will not at first show the children how to do it. The children must try first to find that out for themselves.
So the cubs first prowl around the stag, and try to seize it anywhere. But the cubs cannot get their teeth deep enough into the stag's body; and as the stag is still alive, it shakes them off. The cubs try to seize the stag at other parts of its body, but each time they fail to hold on; instead, the stag shakes them off. And if the cubs dare to come in front of the stag, the stag can still use its antlers to drive them off.
Then how can the tiger cubs manage to seize the prey at all with their teeth? Well, one of the cubs may remember the very first lesson it had several weeks before: that was to eat the throat of the prey, because it was the softest part—as I have already described to you. So it remembers that the throat is the softest part.
Then that cub comes to the side of the stag, makes a sudden plunge downward, and seizes it by the throat. Even then the stag tries to shake off the cub—but the other two cubs then come to their brother's help; they also seize the stag by the throat, one from each side.
Thus the three cubs begin to worry the prey, that is, they shake it, and pull it, while their father and mother watch them. The prey holds up its head and struggles, but gets more and more exhausted with the weight of the three cubs. At last the prey is unable to hold up its head any more. Its head sinks to the ground. Then the three cubs kill it easily.
Tiger Cubs Take Part in Hunt to Catch Prey
When the cubs are six months old, they can take part in the actual hunt for the prey. So they go into the jungle with their father and mother. When they sight the prey, the cubs stay a little behind, while the father and mother stalk the prey.
Suppose the prey is an antelope. You will remember what I told you in Book I, that an antelope looks like a deer; but it is a little different from a deer, because an antelope has horns, and a deer has antlers. Well, the tiger creeps around to the side, then more and more around, till he gets behind the antelope.
Meanwhile the tigress creeps around the opposite way. So when the tiger makes a sudden jump at the antelope, and the antelope tries to run away in either direction, the tiger or the tigress is there to catch it. And meanwhile the cubs also have crept nearer and nearer, hiding behind shrubs and bushes. They can take part in catching the prey by preventing it from escaping in their direction.
Tiger Cubs Learn to Catch Prey by Themselves
"But when do the tiger cubs actually learn to catch the prey?" you may ask.
Well, that takes a little longer to learn. For when the cubs have learned to catch different kinds of prey—wild pigs, wild sheep, wild goats, deer, antelope, cattle—their education is almost finished, just as in the case of a boy who has learned to earn his living in several different ways. So it takes the tiger cubs at least the next four months, from the age of six months to ten months, to learn to catch different kinds of prey, as I shall now describe to you.
In the beginning the cubs learn by example; that is, they watch and see how their father or mother catches the prey. Some kinds of prey are very easy to catch, such as wild pigs or wild sheep, as they cannot run fast, and are also very stupid. A tiger can just rush at a wild pig or a wild sheep, and catch it. So the cubs soon learn to do the same. And as I have already told you that wild pigs and wild sheep are the usual food of tigers, the cubs soon learn to earn their ordinary living.
But then they have to learn a little more difficult lesson—to catch animals which are not so easily caught; and these animals supply them with a more tasty kind of food than just pork or mutton. These animals may be divided into two classes.
First, the prey may be weak, but it can run fast—even faster than the tiger. The deer and the antelope belong to this class.
The second class of prey is just the opposite; it is strong, but it cannot run fast—at least, not as fast as the tiger. Buffaloes, bullocks, and all kinds of cattle belong to this class.
In catching these two different kinds of prey, the tiger or the tigress uses different methods. First I shall describe to you how a tiger catches an animal of the first kind, that is, an animal that is weak, but which can run faster than the tiger, such as a deer.
Can you think how the tiger does that? He cannot chase the deer and run it down in the open country, because the deer can run faster than the tiger.
"The tiger can hide in the tall grass near a river, and wait for a deer to come to drink," you may say. "Then the tiger can jump on it."
That is quite true. And the black stripes on the tiger's yellow body make him appear very much like the tall grass where he is hiding. So the deer does not notice the tiger, and it often comes quite close to the tiger to drink—and then the tiger jumps on it and catches it.
But a tiger may also catch a deer by stalking it. If he sees a deer browsing at a distance, he tries to creep quietly toward the deer. He hides behind bushes and thickets every few minutes, then he creeps on again toward the deer. He does that very cleverly. If the deer is bent on feeding, the tiger creeps on for a few yards. But if for a moment the deer stops feeding, the tiger hides at once.
In this manner the tiger sometimes creeps to within a few yards of the deer. Then he gives a sudden spring and falls on the deer. If he cannot approach the deer near enough to fall on it with just a spring, he first makes a swift rush and then he gives the spring.
When a tiger or a tigress is teaching the cubs to stalk a prey in that manner, the cubs of course stay in the rear and hide behind a bush, and from there they watch. So they see how their father or mother stalks the prey—as I have just described to you. Of course, they have to watch their father or mother several times before they learn that lesson fully.
Now I shall tell you how a tiger catches prey of the other kind—that is, an animal that is strong, but which cannot run fast, such as a bullock. The tiger comes toward the prey from the side or from the back, but never from the front. Why? Because the prey has horns, and if the tiger tried to attack it from the front, the prey would gore the tiger with its horns and perhaps kill the tiger.
So the tiger creeps toward the prey from the side or the back. As the prey cannot run very fast, the tiger does not trouble to stalk it all the way. Instead, the tiger creeps up to within a hundred yards of the prey; then he gives a number of quick rushes, till he reaches the prey. And he is always careful to reach the prey from the side or the back.
"But if the prey turns in time and faces the tiger with its horns?" you may ask.
Then the tiger turns also. He dodges from side to side. A tiger can always turn faster than any horned cattle. A tiger may even come to within a few yards of the prey, and jump clear over it! Then on landing on the ground, the tiger can turn at once and reach the prey from the side. Then he gives a quick blow with his paw on the neck of the prey. One blow is usually enough to stun the prey and knock it down.
Sometimes the prey is so frightened when it first sees the tiger, that it does not try to face the tiger with its horns at all. Instead, the prey stands trembling with terror, and lets the tiger come right up to it from the side. Then the tiger gets up on his hind legs, places one paw on the prey's shoulder, and with the other paw he gives a terrific blow on its neck.
But if the prey is not too frightened, and it struggles when the tiger is trying to strike it, then the tiger uses a different method. He plunges downward and seizes the prey from underneath by the throat. He plants his hind legs firmly on the ground, a little bit away from the side of the prey. In that way he gets a little more "leverage," as it is called.
You have seen a man tilt a heavy box over on its side by placing a crowbar under it, then lifting up the crowbar. Well, the tiger acts somewhat like that. While still holding the prey by its throat in his jaws, he gives a sudden jerk upward with his head. In that way the prey loses its balance and topples over on its side, just like the box.
When the tiger or the tigress is teaching the cubs to catch horned cattle in these different ways, the cubs of course stay a little behind and watch how their father or mother does it.
So in every case, as you will understand, the tiger cubs have to learn from their parents how to get their living in the jungle.