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Big Cat Communication: Understanding How Tigers ‘Talk’

Desiree Michels

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Panthera tigris, aka the Tiger, is the largest of all the big cats. With its sabre-like teeth and powerful physique, the species is endlessly fascinating for observers of nature. The best way of encountering these magnificent big cats in the wild is on an organisedTiger safari and, in order to understand the sights and sounds that may be heard, learning how theyinteract with each other is very useful.

Big Cat Communication

Although they are predominantly solitary animals, living alone or in small family groups, communication is vital. Whether maintaining contact between cubs and mothers, or marking out a territory, they use a variety of techniques to communicate within their species and with other animals.

Vocalisations: A fierce roar is the vocalisation most frequently associated with them, but they actuallyproduce a range of different sounds. Theroar is created in the hyoid apparatus within their oral cavity and, at its loudest, can be heard at a range of three miles. It is used both in hostile situations and for mating, while softer soundsmay indicate that they feel threatened. When they are contented, they emit a vocalisation known as a‘prusten’, the low-frequencysound also known as ‘chuffing’.

Non-verbal communication:As well asusing vocalisations, the animals rely on their sense of smell and touch to communicate. These senses are primarily used to help mark out territory. Deep claw marks on trees or rocks, and trees sprayed with urine mixed with a secretion from an anal gland indicate that a territory is occupied. Another Tiger passing these signs can discern the sex, reproductive status and identity of the animal that left the marks.

Body language:Body language is an important feature of big cat communication. For example, in displays of aggression they will lower their head, maintain eye contact, close their mouth and swipe the tail sharply from side to side. When nervous, they mayroll over or snarl defensively, and when relaxed their tail hangs down. When two females meet, if they do not feel threatened, they may rub their bodies together.

Mothers and young:Females have specific ways of interacting with their cubs. They often make gentle noises, such as chuffing and soft moans. If the mother feels her cubs are threatened she will snarl defensively. Cubs use the mother’s individual scent, emitted from scent glands between her toes, in order to follow her footprints when on the move.

Close Encounters on a Tiger Safari

While participants on aTiger safariwill encounterthe animals at a safe distance in a range of nature reserves, they will almost certainly hear their frequent vocalisations and see evidence of their territory making. An understanding of these primary forms of communication will afford an insight into how the species interacts.

Author Plate

Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Tiger watching. As a passionate lover of wildlife, Marissa chooses the expert-led Tiger safari itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of species in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.


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