Friday, January 30, 2009

More Cat Language

I can attest to the fact that the blink works with big cats as well as with house cats, since I used it to help me get familiar with several lions and tigers. Of course it helped that the environment they and I were in was conducive to starting a relationship. More on that in a bit.

Tigers have been given the reputation of being solitary cats, so it is interesting to learn that they actually have a simple vocal greeting that they use with each other. It's called a "chuff", and you can hear an example of it here:  .

It's easy for a human to imitate this sound; just say, f-f-f-f-f-f, and put a lot of air into it, and don't be afraid to spray a bit.

Tigers are very responsive to this sound; even a poor imitation of it will usually get a positive response. And if you should ever find yourself face to face with a tiger, wouldn't you want to know how to say, "hello, friend"?

Tiger chuffing brings several stories to mind. One concerns the movie "Two Brothers"--when the two cubs see humans for the first time, they are curious, and one of them chuffs at the humans. Writer/director Jean-Jacques Annaud earned my respect forever for getting tiger vocalizations right, not only in that cute little scene but throughout the movie.

Another story is about me, several years ago, when I was all full of myself for knowing how to chuff. I went to the local zoo and chuffed at the tiger there. This obviously caught her by surprise--how often would she have heard a chuff from the people that pass by? Then, with the most eloquent display of body language, she told me that for her own sanity she had to ignore the people that passed by her cage, even if they did know how to say hello. I respect that, and it makes me sad that it has to be that way.

And so we return to the concept of "aloof, loner" cats, and environments conducive to establishing a relationship. The local zoo is not such an environment.

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