Sunday, December 27, 1998
tiger is the biggest and most powerful among the cats and
TIGERS, leopards and jaguars are big cats and they occupy top position in the food chain of nature. They are considered to be the most efficient and perfect hunters but the fact is contrary to the belief. Actually they are not as efficient hunters as one might imagine. We watch wildlife films which often show the cream of the hunts, whereas the reality is that the success is infrequent. A leopard succeeds in running down an antelope or a gazelle in about one in 20 attacks. The same is the case of tiger and jaguar. They are solitary hunters and are able to make only 40-60 kills in a year, which means they make a kill once in a week.
The reason for the higher rate of failure is that these cats believe in hunting alone, for which they rely on the strategy of ambush, taking their prey by surprise. It has been observed that the animals who hunt in groups do better. One-third of spotted hyena attacks end in a successful kill, and wild dogs succeed half the time.
The tiger is the biggest and most powerful among the cats and is such a well-adapted killer that it can take on prey larger than itself and win. It is a typical cat, with large eyes giving binocular, colour vision. During the day the cats eyes are about the same as ours, but in the night they are six times better. They also have good hearing, but a less well-developed sense of smell than dogs. The forepaws have long, very sharp, scimitar-like retractile claws that can grab and hold on to the prey. The jaws have strong muscles and large canine teeth that give the tiger a powerful killing bite. At the kill, the tiger sometimes grabs its prey well forward, pressing the head to the ground and using its forepaws as a lever to topple the victim over. The prey falls awkwardly and breaks its own neck.
Tigers are usually solitary predators, but when they are cubs, they hunt along with their mothers.
The tigers stripes and the leopards and jaguars spots are equally effective forms of cryptic (hidden) colouration, which help them in camouflaging while they stalk the prey. These big cats usually carry out their hunting activity during the night. The prey is spotted from a vantage point, such as a tree or rocky outcrop. The leopard ambushes or stalks depending on local conditions. It rarely pounces on the prey directly from a tree. It jumps down before launching an attack, crushing a victim before it has time to escape.
Being smaller than the other big cats and hunting alone, the leopard is vulnerable to thieving lions and hyenas. To avoid such situations it drags its prize, sometimes the large carcass of an antelope, to a stand of trees and hauls it up into a fork, where it can feed in comparative safety.
The jaguar, found in South America, looks almost similar to the leopard but it is slightly bigger and its spots are also little different. In forests it stalks monkeys in trees, deer and peccaries on the ground, and fish in rivers. It is said that the animal wriggles its tail in water to attract fish, but this behaviour has yet to be confirmed by scientific observation.
The snow leopard, an extremely rare cat living in the mountains of southern Asia, has a few things to catch. Animals are widely scattered, so these mountain hunters must follow the vertical seasonal migration of wild sheep and goats in order to track a meal. In snow, the snow leopard has the advantage. The soles of its feet are lined with a cushion of thick hair, which enables the cat to run over soft snow without it sinking in.
The smaller members of the cat family ambush their prey in one of the two ways some patrol their home range and approach the prey stealthily, while others wait for the prey to come to them.
If snow-shoe hares are abundant, the Canadian lynx lies on a hunting bed and pounces on passing animals. When scarce, it must travel many miles in search of a single hare, and then creep up quietly to surprise it. It is more successful chasing over hard snow than over fresh snow. In soft snow, lighter animals are able to outrun the lynx and get away,
Another smaller cat serval, found in Africa, differs from most other cats in relying on hearing rather than sight to detect small mammals. It has large, widely spaced ears with which it can pick up the slightest movement. Once located, the several pounces, leaping into the air and landing on the victim with its forepaws. The prey, if not already dead, is killed with a bite to the nape of the neck. Servals can also pick up the shuffling of mole rats underground and they have two ways in which they catch them. Those in shallow burrows are simply dug out, but those in deeper burrows present more of a problem. It is solved when the animal damages the entrance to the tunnel and simply waits patiently for the occupant to appear to repair it. As soon as its head appears, the serval strikes.
Fishing cats do not hook fish out with the paw like domestic tabbies. Instead, the fishing cat places its face close to the water surface, peers in to the gloom and then pushes its head below to grab a fish in its mouth.
Caracals and ocelot
sometimes ambush birds. Stalking does not work, for the
birds tend to flap away. The cats must rush the target
and pin it down with the front paws and claws. Margays
and clouded leopards wait in trees and pounce on their
prey as it passes below.
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