Tigers have for millennia inspired awe, admiration and reverence. And their secretive nature has for long fostered numerous myths and misconceptions about their behaviour. We take the five commonest myths and bust them in public interest.
Myth 1: It’s dangerous to be in tiger country in an open vehicle.
Truth: Dangerous to tigers, perhaps, but not to humans!
Don’t get us wrong: tigers are no docile pets. Although they look cuddly, they’re frightfully big and powerful. It’s also true that just a firm right hand from them is an adequate ‘tranquilliser dose’ to lull most humans to eternal rest.
But here’s the fact: they don’t usually give you a firm right hand when you’re in a vehicle. Au contraire, tigers steer clear of human contact unless provoked into conflict, usually on foot, in which case it’s lack of common sense that kills you, and not the tiger. And nobody can save one from one’s own flaws! So as long as you stay in your vehicle, respect a tiger’s space and don’t insist on being taken too close, the chance of your getting hurt by the top cat is as remote as being cuddled by it, because, hard though it may seem to believe, it just doesn’t want to have anything to do with you.
Myth 2: Tigers have a specific mating season, in winter.
Truth: Tigers mate anytime they want.
We don’t know where the origins of this myth lie – whether in the decidedly unfounded belief that cold is an aphrodisiac for tigers, or from the corporate imagination that they maintain a fornication calendar, or in fact the theory that they’re in a competitive bid to emulate birds and deer by sticking to a ‘breeding season’. All we know is that it’s a myth.
For if two tigers want to get together to make some more tigers, it turns out they simply don’t wait until Christmas or New Year’s Eve. They just do it, even if it’s closure-of-accounts time, and even if temperatures are scalding.
Myth 3: Tigers never move about in the middle of the day.
Truth: Tigers will move anytime they want.
Modern human consciousness is full of generalisations such as this one: tigers move about only in the crepuscular and nocturnal hours, just “lying hidden” during the day. And modern observation is full of revelations such as this one: tigers move about anytime they need or want to, especially in winter, but even in the hot months.
Particularly in Bandhavgarh, where temperatures can reach a metal-melting 48 degrees Celsius in the peak of summer, tigers have been seen walking with the sun high in the sky on open vehicle-tracks. So, in the case of tigers, never saying ‘never’ is the wisest course of action.
Myth 4: Tigers don’t like water.
Truth: Tigers love water. In fact they lurve it.
The dislike most cats show to water is well documented. But tigers aren’t among those most cats. They seem to dislike heat instead, and love water as an antidote to it. Even when it’s not hot.
And so it’s common to see them sitting in a forest pool, cooling off in a waterhole, relaxing in a shallow stream, lounging by a lake, and swimming across a channel when they need to get somewhere, sometimes even when it’s freezing for most of us mortals. Tigers like to chill. Be like tigers.
Myth 5: Tigers kill and eat their own offspring.
Truth: They don’t! But they will kill those attempting to kill their cubs!
We know that human imagination can get pretty colourful, but this portrayal of tigers as some sort of deranged homicidal parents using their own offspring like dietary supplements to feed their burning, all-consuming appetites, is preposterous even by its fanciful standards.
The truth is that tigers – tiger-mothers, especially – are acutely devoted to their young, particularly when their cubs are very young and defenceless. And far from killing them, they’re always at an instant ready to kill and be killed in protecting them from threats.