LE RAYON LUMINEUX. Du terne à l'étincelant : changement saisonnier de la fourrure du tigre des neiges, qui se confond avec celle de ses proies*. Alors même qu'il étend considérablement le spectre de ses proies, le félin géant disparaît aux yeux de tous jusque dans les indices qu'il laisse sur les troncs des arbres, ses repères préférés étant investis par les ours mâles en rut. Voir Amur Tiger Programme, ce jour.
Article by Alexander Batalov, biologist and wild game expert, head of the Durmin game farm and executive manager of Amur tiger population monitoring in the Khabarovsk Territory. Zvezda Priamurya magazine, issue 2, 2017.
By the onset of the summer, the tiger sheds its coat completely. The reddish ocher colour of its thick winter fur is replaced by a dark orange shade. At the same time, the coat becomes much shorter and thinner, and the black stripes on the body acquire richer tones. The predator becomes even more elegant and beautiful, at the same time the coat retains a camouflage colour.
Just like before, he is able to hide among the bushes, especially when twilight approaches and during nighttime. Nature has given the tiger an amazing colouration, the overall tone similar to the summer colouring of roe deer and Manchurian wapiti, which obviously helps tigers get closer to their victims without being noticed. Orange-coloured ungulates sometimes even ignore the tiger ambushed in the nearest thickets for quite a while, believing it is one of their own kind, and naturally become easy prey. This is probably the reason why the total number of young Manchurian wapiti and especially the roe deer killed by the tiger during the summer is almost double that of the winter months. In general, these animals make up almost half the tiger’s summer menu.
In the summer, the tiger has a wider range of food: in addition to ungulates, its diet begins to include badgers, raccoon dogs as well as bears. At the same time, the predation threat on ungulates decreases. This is due to the fact that, with the advent of broods, adult female deer and wild boar become secretive and stay within a limited area. Badgers and bears, on the contrary, have an active lifestyle, especially during twilight hours and by night. Noisily moving in the forest in search of food or mating partners, they become easy prey for tigers too. Adult male tigers, depending on how hungry and self-confident they are, can attack almost any animal. Young predators prefer to hunt badgers, raccoon dogs, hares, hazel grouses, ungulates and other small animals. Adult females, including those busy feeding their cubs, take an intermediate position: when choosing victims, they prefer small prey, which is easier to eat on site or move closer to the lair with the cubs that are often born in April or May.
Female tigers with cubs usually arrange their lairs in secluded places in summer – under a canopy of fallen trees or rocky outcrops. It is important to find a place with water nearby, where a family of predators quenches their thirst and cools down during hot days or periods of drought. If the drought drags on, most tigers begin to lay their main routes along springs and rivers. Well-fed adult males often cool in boars’ bathing pits or puddles while prowling their usual paths in the absence of suitable bodies of water. This is why they often look muddy on images taken by camera traps.
Like all forest animals, during the summer months tigers suffer from blood-sucking insects. To get rid of ticks, tigers scratch themselves with their paws or rub themselves against tree trunks, shake off midges and mosquitoes with sharp movements of the head and body, and knock down horse flies with a swift swing of their tails. When horse flies press them too hard – they are most active on forest edges in the daytime heat – tigers hide in the darkened thicket and stay there until dusk. During twilight hours and at night, the predators move around and hunt different animals, if there is a chance. In rainy and wet weather, tigers can be equally active at any time of the day.
The tigers’ marking activity decreases in the summer, and their "mailboxes" such as notable trees and rocks often become objects of marking of large brown bear males. It is also the time of bear weddings: adult male bears, being in an aggressive mood, claim ownership of the area they occupy.
Tigers try not to have any conflicts with such bears, and prefer to simply avoid them. They compromise, obviously knowing from experience that after a while the bears will calm down and scatter themselves around the area, and then they will again be able to walk along their routes without worrying, updating the visual and fragrant marks on their marking objects so as to be able to communicate with their kind.
*Des auteurs de la première moitié du siècle dernier, comme Nicolas Baïkov (Man'chzhurskii tigr 1925) et Lev Kaplanov ("Tigr, izyubr, los" - le tigre, le wapiti, l'élan - publié en 1948, 5 ans après sa mort), vont jusqu'à considérer que le tigre imite parfois le brame du wapiti pour attirer sa proie.