Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Goat and the Tiger

There was a story going around the Internet not long ago about a goat named Timur who was put into an enclosure to be eaten by a captive tiger named Amur.  To everyone's surprise, the tiger did not eat the goat.  The two animals seemed to be friends.  This went on for some time.  But at last the tiger remembered that he was a tiger and that goats were food.  He attacked the goat.  

Of course he attacked the goat.  Tigers are predators.  It is their nature to kill and eat animals like goats.  Amur had eaten many goats.  He wasn't vicious.  He wasn't betraying the goat.  He was just being a tiger.  It is very likely that in his initial encounter with the goat, he got hurt by it when the terrified goat rebuffed his attack.  

I have seen the same thing happen sometimes with live mice fed to captive snakes.  If the mouse got in one good defensive bite, the snake would no longer try to eat the mouse.  Weeks could go by and the mouse would be tolerated - even to the snake allowing the mouse to walk on its body.  They would seem to be peacefully co-existing.  But they were not friends.  They were two animals in a small, sterile environment, coping the only way they knew how - by ignoring each other as much as possible. 

Perhaps that had not happened to the tiger before.  He got kicked or butted in a way that caused him pain.  But eventually, after the passage of several months, the goat triggered a predatory response in the tiger.  Amur had had time to forget their first encounter.  His normal response to Timur as a prey animal returned.
The tiger's keepers managed to distract the tiger.  They pulled the incapacitated goat from the tiger's enclosure.  I have read that the goat had no serious injuries, but that he was suffering from shock.  This is probably the most normal response to the tiger that the goat showed throughout the entire period of his co-existence with him.  It is normal for prey animals to go into shock when attacked by large predators. 

It seemed that having become famous, Timur must now be protected from the tiger that he was originally offered to as food.  His state of shock was treated and he was given a new life with another goat.  His fame had saved him.   

I saw several videos of Timur and Amur in their "friendship" stage.  What I saw did not look like friendship to me.  It looked like an armed truce.  The goat possessed rather formidable-looking horns, and would stand his ground and lower them menacingly if the tiger made direct advances.  When the tiger was non-aggressive in manner, the goat was too.  But Timor kept an eye on Amur.  This too, is typical of prey animals.  Zebra and antelope are known to follow lions about.  They do this so they will know where the source of danger lies, and be able to flee quickly should the lion shift into "hunting gear."

Amur and Timur were two creatures never meant to exist together outside the context of predator and prey.  When they encountered each other in an atypical way, in an unnatural context, they behaved in atypical ways.  Each must have struggled with the strangeness of their situation, which would have altered their normal response to each other.  A prolonged "truce" ensued.  But eventually the goat triggered a predatory response in the tiger.  It was inevitable.

Humans being what they are, assigned all sorts of inappropriate motivations to both animals.  "Tigers are vicious", "They are best friends now."  All rubbish, of course.  The tiger was not showing the goat "mercy."  The goat was not particularly "brave."  Both animals were simply reacting to a situation that their instincts and experience did not prepare them for.  

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