Tigers are not your average cat.
For example, tigers and water are an excellent match. Not only are they excellent swimmers but also they like to spend time in pools and water holes to cool down.
During the hot Indian summer, when the temperatures can go up to more than 45°, it’s likely to find Bengal tigers partially or completely immersed in water, just like this one.
This is tigress Derraha from Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, a beautiful, fully grown tiger.
She had a very special way of cooling down in the water, carefully avoiding to get one of her front paws wet.
She drank, then sat down, then got up to change her position, then up again and finally out of the water, always taking care of hovering her precious limb without getting any drops on it.
So, what is it about tigers and water ? Why do they like this element so much ?
If you’ve ever seen a wild Bengal tiger in the heat of the Indian summer, it’s easy to understand that tigers relax and cool down up to their neck, soaking in natural pools or waterholes (yes, like most animals they don’t like to have their head or eyes wet !).
Water is also important in the feeding behaviour of these animals. Tigers are carnivore, and they consume their meat … raw. After the kill, the tiger starts to consume the prey when the blood is still hot. It would then would take breaks to let its belly cool down in the water, where it will drink as well. That’s why a kill is generally dragged somewhere not far from a waterhole, in order to be properly enjoyed.
A well known tiger culinary habit is to drag the kill in the water and let it marinate for some hours before finishing eating it (Yikes ! 😬)
But heat is not the only reason that drives tigers towards water. Amur tigers of the Russian far East are also seen swimming, splashing and sometimes even crossing the Amur river in Siberia that gives them their name.
Young cubs are often seen splashing and playing in the water when their mother’s protective eye is not far and they can behave freely, without a care in the world.
In December 2017 I had the privilege to witness a beautiful scene of tigress Choti Tara’s sub adult cubs playing in the water in Tadoba Tiger Reserve, in central India. The cubs splashed around with their huge paws for a good 10 minutes, an amazing reminder of how the life of a tiger should be.
Tigers are known to be excellent swimmers.
Any subspecies of tiger have been seen crossing rivers and swim up to 30 km with strong currents. While hunting, they can even chase prey towards the water and then use their swimming skills as an advantage to capture them.
They also swim regularly when on their territory patrol and are seen taking water shortcuts to reach the place they are going go.
The striped inhabitants of the Sunderbans, the world’s largest mangrove habitat in India and Bangladesh, are regularly seen swimming from island to island. To the prey, they can be as deadly as crocodiles.
Some particularly smart tiger has also been seen fishing in the water. The writer Sooyong Park, in his beautiful and heartbreaking book The Great Soul of Siberia, in search of the elusive Siberian tiger, tells the story of Bloody Mary, a formidable mother and a very smart hunter.
Catching a fish in a river is no easy task for an excessively eager tiger with huge paws. Normally a tiger would stand in the water and start swiping cluelessly, hoping that somehow a fish would be caught in the midst of all the turmoil. Needless to be said, that’s not a very successful technique !
But Bloody Mary used to stay in the water without moving. She waited for a long time, patiently, three of her paws in the water, until the fish started to come and pick the hair of her legs, probably thinking it was some king of algae. Only then she would administer a single, strong swipe and catch a fish to take back to her hungry cubs.
No, definitely tigers are not your average cat.