Posts Tagged ‘tiger’

A tiger in the Sundarbans.

Mark Derr has a very interesting post up on Psychology Today.

He discussed the efficacy of using dogs to alert the presence of  man-eating tigers in the Sundarbans, and he wonders if similar dogs might be useful for alerting to the presence of lions in suburban Nairobi.

People have long used dogs as alarm systems. It may have been one of their original functions around human camps. Dogs would have alerted our ancestors to the Homotherium or the short-faced bear stalking near the camp, and thus they would have given humans a chance to chase off the big predator.

And there are plenty of modern-day examples:

In Siberia, a trapper or hunter would rely upon his laika to feed him and to help procure some furs. However, the dog would also have  use in alerting to the presence of brown bears, which would always be raiding his caches.

Helen Thayer, the first woman to walk and ski to the Magnetic North Pole, was told that she needed a dog to protect her from polar bears. She procured a dog of mixedqimmiq and Newfoundland blood named Charlie. Charlie alerted her to the bears on several occasions, and he even drove off a bear that charged her.

And we have the Masai people of Kenya and Tanzania who keep little pariah-type dogs with their cattle. They prefer golden red dogs, but the dogs are of no distinct breed. Just regular Africanis. The dogs alert to the presence of lions, and the Masai are able to run the predators off. Of course, the Masai occasionally do kill lions. Hunting lions is a rite of passage for young warriors in this culture.

However, the Masai usually have no problems with lions. The big cats usually defer to the Masai, and they usually don’t consider the Masai prey.

Now, it might be possible that a barking dog might be the best way to keep suburban lions under control.

However, there might be cases in which having dogs around might not be the best thing if one wants to keep the predators away.

Leopards and Amur tigers consider dogs a rare delicacy. Amur tigers limit dhole and wolf populations in their range, and it is well-known that Amur tigers will take dogs that are walking beside armed men. Leopards, which are well-known for hunting jackals, were infamous for taking the naive Western dogs belonging to European settlers in southern Africa. Most European dogs had spent their lives chasing cats, and when they got to Africa and caught wind of a leopard, they decided to give chase.  If the dog happened to be on its own, it stood very little chance against  leopard.

So maybe we can use the Stone Age technology of a predator-alert dog to solve twenty-first century conflicts with large predators.

It may require some recalibrations, but maybe we can develop a system that allows suburbanites in Nairobi to live near lions in much the same way the Masai do.

We have may even devise as hazing system for lions that uses dogs. In parts of western North America, Karelian bear dogs are used to haze grizzly bears that have become to accustomed to approaching people and homes. The dogs bark at the bears while humans shoot them with bean bags and rubber bullets. The bears learn to associate  barking dog with the pain from the bean bags and rubber bullets, and they soon learn to avoid human habitation.

We can learn to live with large predators. We just have to find ways to make sure that large predators know that we’re not a suitable prey source.

And maybe dogs can help us with that.





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A tiger cub taxidermy by Rowland Ward:

(Source for image)

Rowland Ward was a famous British taxidermist and founder of Rowland Ward Ltd. of Piccadilly, a major British taxidermy firm.

His father, Henry Ward, collected and preserved specimens with John James Audubon, and his father taught him the taxidermy craft.

Most of his mounts are quite good, but even masters have their rejects.

This poor tiger cub looks like some creature from a fantasy movie.


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People are often castigated for breeding white tigers. After all, we know that white tigers cannot survive in the wild. However, this may be a moot point. The future for the tiger may no longer be as a wild animal.

Contrary to what you may have heard, the aurochs is not extinct.

Yes. I’m fully aware that the last of these large wild cattle died of natural causes in the forest near the village Jaktorów in Eastern Poland in 1627.

However, the aurochs species is not extinct at all.

It’s actually doing quite well. There an estimated 1.3 billion individuals of the aurochs species still running around the world today. Their range is no longer restricted to Eurasia and North Africa.  They are now found throughout the world.

That’s because the aurochs still exists as a domesticated species. We just usually refer to them as domestic cattle.

Most people don’t know the name of the wild ancestor of domestic cattle. When I was a kid, I naively assumed they were derived from bison or maybe water buffalo.

The aurochs couldn’t survive the duel forces of habitat destruction and widespread hunting for humans. Agriculture demanded the use of fences and cultivated fields, and as we currently see in Africa, where large ungulates are among the most hated of species because they raid crops, the aurochs was not well-received in agricultural areas.  Domestic taurine cattle derive from aurochs that were domesticated in the Near East.  There is very little evidence that European aurochs contributed to modern taurine cattle strains, although I should caution that this finding is still hotly contested. There is no evidence that European aurochs mitochondrial DNA lineages exist in modern taurine cattle, but it possible that wild European bulls might have contributed to domestic taurine cattle.  These wild cattle would have introduced very wild characteristics into the domestic stock, that is very likely that they could have been killed off for that reason alone.

In the last days of the aurochs, they existed only in Eastern Europe, where Slavic and Germanic nobles organized hunting parties to slaughter them.  These were sporting hunts, not at all dissimilar to the hunts organized against British white park cattle or Spanish bullfights, but these nobles had no real understanding of wildlife management. And it wasn’t long until they became very rare. When it was discovered that the last population in Poland had been reduced to only around 40 individuals, all hunting was banned.  The hunting ban didn’t save the wild herd.  It is not exactly clear what happened, but it is likely that these last  individuals were too far from each other to exchange genes. They then became inbred, and they weren’t able to survive the inbreeding depression that set in.

Now, this isn’t really an unfamiliar story for us in the twenty-first century. The only difference is we have a good understanding of wildlife management and conservation breeding. If the seventeenth century Polish gamekeepers had only known what we know now, they might have been able to save the aurochs. Perhaps if they had allowed the aurochs to mate with primitive and feral domestic cattle, there could have been some chance for a genetic rescue.

There are many species that have several parallels in common with the aurochs.

Perhaps the most similar to aurochs is the current situation with the  tiger.

Like the aurochs in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the tiger is facing dueling threats of habitat loss and fragmentation and hunting pressure from humans.  Unlike the aurochs, the tiger is not currently being hunted for sport. Instead, it is being hunted because its body parts are considered useful for medicinal purposes in China. China’s booming economy in recent decades has resulted in a very strong middle class, which has increased demand for tiger parts.

So tigers are being hunted in areas where they still live.

And in most of tiger range, suitable habitat is becoming harder and harder to come by. Growing human populations in much of Asia, demand new agricultural areas. Forests are also being felled to feed the growing lumber market, and humans want to graze livestock in areas where tigers currently roam. Tigers will occasionally take livestock. They also will occasionally take people.

Most people living in tiger territory have very little tolerance for them.

All of these features pretty much spell doom for the tiger.

However, like the aurochs, it has another chance.

And like the aurochs, this chance really isn’t all that pretty.

You see, the tiger readily breeds in captivity.

And although there are between 3,000 and 4,000 tigers left in the wild, there are an estimated 20,000 tigers of various and crossed subspecies living in captivity.

Unlike the aurochs, however, the exact utility of captive tigers isn’t clear. It is true that there are tiger farms in China that mass produce tigers for their body parts, but it strains credulity that these farmed tigers could actually become a sustained domestic population in the way domestic cattle were.  The Chinese people are not ignorant. They are becoming more and more attuned to science, and they are adopting modern medicine. This process of accepting modernity has been going on for centuries, and the same forces that are creating a strong Chinese middle class– namely greater access to education and foreign markets and ideas–are going to erode the market for medicinal tiger products over time.

The best that these tiger farms can do is take some of the pressure off of wild tiger populations, which is not a bad thing. However, it is unlikely that we’re going to find another use for tigers to replace the function that will be lost when the market for tiger products eventually collapses.

But by the time it collapses, there won’t be many tigers left, and there won’t be much room for those that are still around. And those that are still around will likely become so locally inbred that they won’t be able to survive, even if they are no longer hunted.

I am not optimistic for the tiger’s future. Its future, such that it has, will be to exist as a captive animal.  Over time, captivity’s selective pressures will fundamentally change them. They probably won’t become an animal that one could ever keep as a pet, but they will never be the wild animals they once were.

They will be living museum pieces, maintained solely to remind of what once was but never will be again.

These captive tigers are better monuments to what was once the tiger than the docile and dopey domestic cattle are to the aurochs.

Indeed, the best monument to the aurochs is this memorial that was placed at Jaktorów:

Someday soon, we’ll have to place one of these monuments in some Asian forest. My guess is it will be somewhere in India or Bangladesh or perhaps in the Russian Far East.

This monument will be to the last wild tiger. No longer does it it burn bright in the forests of the night.

Instead, its faint embers burn away in the cages and enclosures of the zoos, tiger farms, and circuses.

The embers will grow fainter over time– until the tiger will be but a shadow of itself.   It will become a giant pussy cat that can never roam as its truly domestic counterpart is often allowed to do.

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This comes from the film Wild Cargo (1934).


Frank Buck made several films of this type, which were widely popular in the 1930’s and 40’s.

Buck was born in Texas, where he became an expert at catching all sorts of animals. After a possessing a winning hand at poker, he wound up in Brazil, where he caught several birds. When he returned to New York, he was able to sell these birds at profits that he couldn’t imagine.

And that’s how the famed animal collector got started.

This particular film was mostly taken on the estates of the Sultan Ibrahim of Johor in what was then the British colony of Malaya.  This Sultan was one of the Empire’s puppet rulers– and one of the richest men in the world at the time.

I don’t know if this cat actually weighed 500 pounds or if it actually had been a man-eater.

But it is good Hollywood.

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Tiger puppy LOL


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Tigers are smarter than lions. Encephalization quotients say so!


One should never use encephalization quotients as substitutes for intelligence tests. Frogs have bigger brains in relation to their body sizes than dogs do. Are frogs smarter than dogs? Shrews have really big brains in proportion to their body sizes–much more so than humans. In some shrew species, 10 percent of their body weight is their brain. Are you going to tell me that shrews are more intelligent than people?

What Salmoni says about lions could be something more related to the peculiarities of lion behavior. Lions are social cats, and they might be responding to the approval of their human trainers more than a tiger would. If a tiger decides to kill, it may not be able to be stopped with corrections. It doesn’t care as much what people or other cats think of it. Male lions also attack for a different reason that tigers do. If a male lion is kept with lionesses, he become very protective of them. It seems to me more likely tigers attack almost entirely out of predatory response.

And intelligence has nothing to do with whether a species is more easily domesticated than another. We have domesticated all sorts of different animals with different types of intelligence. Pigs and dogs are fairly intelligent animals. The fact that male lions get so aggressive when in the presence of females is probably why they will never be domesticated.  It is the pre-existing natural behavior of the species– not intelligence– that determines whether a species can be domesticated.

I laughed a bit when the tame lion was set on the bull. A tame lion has no practice in hunting. How on earth would it know how to kill a bull? Further, it’s a male lion. Male lions are not meant for hunting, unless the pride is going after African buffalo, which is a huge, aggressive animal that can give a hunting party made up of mostly lionesses a run for their money. A big male lion or two can provide the brawn for bringing down this fellest of African horned herbivores.

I don’t know who started this meme on Youtube of which animal will kill which animal in a fight or which animal is the most intelligent. It’s really funny. It is like teenage boys are yearning ofr an animal death match. Their inchoate desires to see bloodsport are transferred into these puerile exploits that often use misunderstandings, pseudo-science, and half-baked anecdotal evidence to back up their claims.

I have no idea which animal is more intelligent. I am not sure that this question is all that relevant to understanding why tigers and lions behave as they do. I doubt that lions are very good at stalking wolves and brown bears in Russian forests as Amur tigers do. I doubt that tigers are very good at cooperative hunting of any sort.

Intelligence in animals is alway controversial– and always nebulous. Intelligence in our own species is similarly difficult to quantify or qualify.  We don’t have a good understanding of those characteristics in our own species, so what makes us think we can divine them between two species of big cat that happened to be separated by millions of years of evolution and that evolved to live very different lives in the wild?

Tigers are intelligent to be tigers. Lions are intelligent to be lions. I think that is all we can say, if we are to say anything from a scientific perspective.

I should also correct a few things in this video:

In general, social predators are more intelligent than solitary ones.  This was the finding of a recent study that compared the evolution of brain sizes across different species through their ancestral forms. Dogs have evolved larger brains from their ancestors than cats have. That is because dogs are social.

And I don’t know how anyone can say that lions live in less complex environments than tigers do. Lions were once quite widespread through Africa, Asia, and even parts of Europe. They are adapted to complex environments. And even with that understanding, how can someone seriously make the claim that life on the African savannas is not complex?  Parts of the Serengeti are known for their startling biodiversity, and lions are part and parcel of it.

There are so many things wrong with these sorts of videos. I don’t know why I watch them.

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It was announced today at the St. Petersburg “tiger summit” that only 3,200 tigers exist in the wild. Those that still exist are suffering from poaching and habitat destruction.

If those forces continue at the same pace, tigers will be extinct in the wild by 2022.

The summit was put together by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is something of a tiger enthusiast, and the World Bank.

The most interesting thing to come out of the summit thus far is that Russia has announced plans to work with China to set up a large transnational tiger preserve for their shared population of Amur tigers.

Things look bleak for the tiger. I don’t know if the efforts of this summit will be successful.

Most people don’t in the West don’t realize tigers are in this much trouble.

And considering how bad things are economically, I don’t think we’re going to invest that much in saving this animals.

After all, most people think tigers are fine. You can see them at just about any roadside zoo.

If only they knew that those mongrel tigers were of no use to the conservation to this species…

But that’s hard to explain.

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This is from one of those Frank Buck films about collecting animals for zoos:


I guarantee you that this footage was contrived.

And it wouldn’t pass any kind of animal cruelty standards for “animal actors.”

I’ve seen most of these Frank Buck films. They were once on AMC or TMC one day in the summer several years ago.

Don’t watch the orangutan footage if you find it.  It will make you very upset that anyone could treat an orangutan in that manner.

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Tigers dominate dholes

I don’t know where this myth came from, but it seems that anyone who has heard of dholes thinks they are super predators that swarm in vast hordes and kill everything, including wolves, bears, leopards, and tigers.

Keep in mind that dholes aren’t much larger than the typical border collie, and although they form larger packs than wolves,  one of the probable reasons why they do so is to have more eyes, ears, and noses around to detect stalking big cats.

Leopards and tigers like dholes.  For dinner.

This video does a fairly good job debunking the misconception that tigers have much to fear from dholes.


This video comes from a meme on youtube that has frustrated me for some time.

Whenever I look for videos on predation,  I find these videos that go something like this: “Tiger Kills Lion: Tigers Rule!”  or “Lions Kill Crocodile: Lions Kick Butt!”

It seems that within the vast world of youtube, some people have decided to use this technology to have fights about which animal will win in a one-to-one combat scenario.

However, now that we’ve banned virtually all forms of animal pugilism,  these arguments still exist. In the old days, they’d just set up a ring and have at it.

So maybe youtube is a good place for these sentiments after all.

At least they aren’t fighting tigers and dholes!

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It is often mentioned that the wolves have no natural predators.

This statement is not necessarily true.

Bears of various species will kill wolf pups, and sometimes, they will kill wolves over territorial disputes and access to carcasses.

Cougars and leopards have been known to take the odd wolf.

And wolves themselves do a lot of killing of each other.

But only one predator has been proven to kill wolves in sufficiently enough numbers to actually control wolf populations.

I am not talking about man in this case. However, our species has certainly done a number on wolves.

The predator that really goes after wolves is a big cat. Indeed, it is the biggest cat– the Amur or Siberian tiger.

In the Amur tiger’s main range in the Sikhote-Alin mountains, wolves were virtually unknown until dawn of the twentieth century. By that time, the main wave of Russian colonization had penetrated the mountain range.

As the big cats became rarer, the number of wolves increased.

Now, these cats obviously have a taste for canine food.  They have been known to prey on dholes, which once were common in Amur tiger range. The northern terminus of the dhole’s original range is well within the core of Amur tiger habitat.

But Amur tigers are best known for their attacks on dogs. Although they generally fear people, they have been known to go out of their way to attack dogs.

Canine meat is just too much for them to pass up.

In fact, there are plenty of stories of Amur tigers approaching armed hunters for no other reason other than to take the laika dogs walking at their sides.

It is very rare for an Amur tiger to become a maneater.

But their love of dog meat makes them approach human settlements.

That big cats prey on dogs isn’t such a strange thing.   There are many cougars who would rather hunt dogs than deer, and leopards really like to hunt dogs. In fact, when Europeans brought their large hunting dogs to Africa, the leopards had a field day.  A leopard typically isn’t much larger than a dog, and to a naive European dog, there is very little in its life experience that would have told it to find a cat dangerous.  Indeed, there would have been much in its life experience to find the cat fun to chase.

But the fact that Amur tigers are such a major predator of wolves is quite surprising. Wolves generally don’t experience much predation, unless you count the large numbers of wolves that are killed in intraspecies conflicts as predation.

In this part of the Russian Far East, the top dog’s status is supplanted by a  cat.

Granted, it is a massive cat.

But so long as there are Amur tigers in those forests, the wolves and dogs will have something to worry about.

Of course, those tigers aren’t exactly thriving– as one can easily see with virtually every tiger population.

The wolves and dogs are much more successful as a species.

It’s just in this part of Russia, they have real competition.

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