Tigers may live independent lives, but this does not mean that they do not have any contact with others of their kind. In fact they do, and these encounters require some form of communication with one another in order to be effective and fulfilling. Tigers communicate by various means, including:
To communicate visually usually means to use body language, even in the case of human beings. This indicates to other tigers, as well as to prey and potential threats (such as human beings), that the tiger is communicating with them in some way – that is, to express fear, contentment, aggression, and so on. An aggressive tiger may display twisted ears (that display the back of the ears to the head-on onlooker), a lashing tail, wide-open eyes and the mouth ever so slightly agape. If the tiger goes into defensive mode, the ears will lie down flat, the teeth will be bared, the eyes narrowed into very thin slits and the tail low. Conversely, if the tiger is relaxed; meeting others of its kind in a social setting, perhaps; the ears will be upright as will the tail.
A tiger is capable of making impressively loud roars, the noise of which can carry for more than three kilometres. A tiger will roar as a warning to other tigers that may be threats to their mating partner or their territory. This powerful roar may also serve as an invitation to potential mates wanting to know where a female that is ready and willing to mate may be living.
Prusten is a form of vocal communication that is a low-intensity sound that is emitted in short, loud bursts. Really, this is the equivalent of a domestic cat’s purrs. Prusten is also called chuffing.
When a mother is summoning her young, she is likely to use soft groans to call them. This is non-threatening and comforts the little ones. Sometimes, this groan is also used when one tiger is approaching another one. This announces its presence and establishes a non-aggressive foundation. Louder, more aggressive snarls and growling are only used when tigers are in defence mode.
Scent and Body Contact
Whether a tiger needs to convey its readiness to mate or its personal territory, it is most likely going to communicate this using its scent-rich urine. During times at which the female is ready to mate, she is able to increase her urine-marking activities. She will be sure to mark her territory liberally, ensuring that males within the area are aware of her state. Anal glands also produce a strong scent, which permeates the faeces and also acts as a territory marker.
When communicating with one another, the tigers will touch each other’s bodies, rubbing themselves against one another. This is, in itself, another form of communication. During this process, they will also exchange scents; in effect, introducing themselves to the other cat.
It is particularly common for mothers and cubs to rub faces with each other. This can also be observed between males and females of courting pairs. By doing this, the tigers are actually transferring their scent from glands on their face to the other animal. Such glands are also found at the base of the tail and between the toes. For this reason, tigers can often be seen rubbing their hindquarters on trees, marking these with their scent. Likewise, when they have used an object as a scratching post, they will have left their identifying mark on it.
While the way that tigers communicate may be quite different to the methods used by humans, they are effective, innovative and deeply significant to the animals. They help them to form strong social and familial bonds. To understand more about these methods of communication is to understand this mysterious hunter just a little better.