Tiger – Master of non-verbal communication


Tiger with Ocelli

I have often wondered about the beauty of the Apex predator of India, the Royal Bengal Tiger. Donning that lustrous coat of black and gold, the Tiger has enthralled me like no other species ever has! A wild animal so often seen, yet so little understood! How do they live? What do they feel? Do they talk to each other? These questions have bugged my meandering mind ever since I saw my first tiger in the wild almost five years ago! Those grunts and growls, those suggestive prowls- what do they exactly say to each other, or to those who fear them? More importantly, how do they say it?

So how do tigers communicate? 

And then I stumbled upon one of the secrets of tiger communication, as much as we humans have deciphered it! It fascinated me to know that as much as we humans go gaga about the importance of nonverbal cues and body language, these wild souls out there are already masters of non-verbal communication!

Those striking white spots on the back side of the tigers’ ears! The key to a lot of what they do, see and hear! OCELLI (singular- ocellus), as they are scientifically called. These are used as signaling mechanisms, they stand out from the otherwise golden-black colorations. Ever seen an aggravated tiger pulling back his ears before he lets out that chilling snarl? Notice those Ocelli being quite exposed, a warning sign for any opponent to back off. Researchers thus believe that Ocelli may be perceived largely as a threat response. However, it is used in positive ways too. A tigress is a single mother, often rearing a litter of three to four tiny tots. She runs the show, right from going off to hunt to protecting her young litter. Before heading out for a hunt, a tigress will safely hide her cubs in a thicket or grassy clump to keep them safe. And they wait for her return. So how do the tiny tots make out that Mommy’s nearby? It’s those white-blaring Ocelli that seem to come to the rescue! Their distinct white marks that are distinguishable from the otherwise yellow-black grass, they are the perfect signal of a perfect family reunion!

Did you think we were the only ones to espouse soft skills like non-verbal communication? Think again, for the world of wildlife hold mysteries unplumbed! It’s just a question of looking around and noticing with your eyes open!

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