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The Tiger Ways - Harper's

 

The royal tiger of Asia is an animal celebrated for its beauty and its agility, cunning, and prodigious strength. Its skin is a bright tawny yellow, with glossy black stripes running downward from its back. Its tail, which is long and supple, is ringed with black, and its large head is marked in a very handsome manner. It is like a great cat. Its puffy cheeks are ornamented with white whiskers, and its big paws are like those of a pussy magnified fifty times. Its motions are very graceful, and whether lying down, its nose on its paw, sleeping, or walking through the paths of its native jungle with soft cat-like tread, it appears formed of muscle and sinew, without a bone in its body, so gracefully does it curve and twist itself as it moves.

The tiger is not considered a courageous beast by hunters, who say that if it is faced boldly, it will turn and slink away among the bushes, if it can. But if it can attack a hunter from behind, it will spring upon him, filling the air with its savage growls, and probably kill him with the first blow of its mighty paw.

The strength of this creature is almost incredible. It will break the skull of an ox, or even that of a buffalo, with the greatest ease. A story is told of a buffalo belonging to a peasant in India, which, while passing through a swamp, became helplessly entangled in the mire and underbrush. The peasant left the buffalo, and went to beg his neighbors to assist him in extricating the poor beast. When the rescuing party returned, they found a tiger had arrived before them, and having killed the buffalo, had just shouldered it, and started to march home to its lair with the prey. The tiger was soon dispatched by the peasant and his friends, and his beautiful skin was made to atone in a measure for the murder of the buffalo, which, when weighed, tipped the scales at more than a thousand pounds—a tremendous load for so small an animal as a tiger to shoulder and carry off with ease.

The tiger is very troublesome to the inhabitants of certain localities in India, as it attacks the herds, and makes off with many a fat bullock; and when unable to find other provender it will even attack the huts of the natives, sometimes tearing away the thatch, and springing in with a loud roar on a startled family. Instances are rare, however, of tigers attacking human beings, except when surprised and driven to self-defense. In some portions of the country they are very abundant, and may be heard every night roaring through the jungles in search of deer and other beasts upon which they prey. Even the savage wild boar of India does not terrify this queen of cats, and often bloody battles occur between these two powerful beasts.

As a mother the tiger is very devoted, and will fight for its pretty kittens to the last extremity. A story is told of an English officer who, while hunting in India, came upon the lair of a tiger, in which a tiny kitten, about a fortnight old, was lying all alone. Thinking that the mother was probably among the beasts killed by his party, the officer took the kitten to the camp, where it was chained to a pole, and amused the whole company with its graceful gambols. A few hours later, however, the whole camp was shaken by terrible roars and shrieks of rage, which came ever nearer and nearer. The kitten heard them, and became a miniature tiger at once, showing its teeth, and answering with a loud wail. Suddenly there leaped into the camp inclosure a furious tigress with glaring eyes. Without deigning to notice the robbers of her baby, she seized the little thing in her teeth, snapped the small chain which held it with one jerk, and briskly trotted off with it into the jungle. Not a man in the camp dared move, and no one was malicious enough to fire at the retreating mother that had risked her life to regain possession of her baby.

A ROYAL BENGAL TIGER. A ROYAL BENGAL TIGER.

Any one who has watched the feeding of caged tigers in a menagerie can easily imagine how terrible a hungry tiger would be, were he running free in his native jungle. As supper-time approaches, the tigers begin to roar and growl, and march restlessly up and down the cage. When the keeper approaches with the great pieces of raw beef, their roaring makes everything tremble. With ferocity glaring in their eyes, the tigers spring for the food, and begin to devour it eagerly. They often lie down to eat, holding the meat in their fore-paws like a cat, rolling it over and over while they tear it in pieces, growling savagely all the while.

The royal tiger is found only in Asia; for the beast called a tiger in South America and on the Isthmus of Panama is properly the jaguar, and its skin is not ornamented by stripes, but by black spots. It is not so powerful as its royal relative, but very much like it in its habits. Like the tiger, it is an expert swimmer, and as it is very fond of fish, it haunts the heavily wooded banks of the great South American rivers, and is a constant terror to the wood-cutters, who anchor their little vessels along the shore.

The crocodiles and the jaguars are at constant war with each other. If a jaguar catches a crocodile asleep on a sand-bank, it has the advantage, and usually kills its antagonist; but if the crocodile can catch its enemy in the water, the jaguar rarely escapes death by drowning.

Jaguars are not as plentiful on the Isthmus of Panama as formerly, before the scream and rumble of the locomotive disturbed the solitudes of the dense tropical forest. Still, large specimens are occasionally killed there, and their beautiful skins bring a high price when brought to market.