Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Can you stop a tiger by blinking your eyes?

Warning: Do not try this at home. Do not try it in the wild either. Do  not get close to a tiger, period.

Of course, if you have a fully grown tiger at home, you may be crazy beyond hope anyway.

The question originally was can you stop a tiger by closing your eyes? This version was discarded because of a lack of scientific rigor. What if you do close your eyes a few yards from a tiger? Do you just stand there with the eyes closed and wait? In that case, how long should you wait?

Can you stop a tiger by blinking your eyes, however, is neat, easy and has an answer.

The answer is: it works most of the time.

The question why the f*** would I do this, is also answered in the course of this post.

In theory, you could try it next time you go to a zoo. Stand safely behind thick glass or behind the wire fence. Do not gesticulate or make any movement to attract the attention of an animal - ever.
Look at a tiger, then slowly blink with one eye. If a big cat sees you do this, and if the big cat is not busy doing something more important that dealing with you, there is an excellent chance the tiger will stop for a moment.
Regarding a tiger in a zoo, we generally refrain from doing a slow blink. Leave them be with their group.  An exception is an unhappy solitary tiger prancing back and forth in a small enclosure. Stopping a prancing animal in its tracks for a couple of seconds it not a power trip, by the way. It is a friendly you are not alone blinky-postit-note of sorts.
And you may catch a glimpse in the eye of the tiger: did I really see this human doing that?

In practice, get yourself a house cat to observe the phenomenon. If you don't have one, ask a neighbor if he or she has noticed the behavior, or if you can practice on his or her cat.

The experiment is a lot safer with a house cat. Genetically around 95% tiger, the majority of house cats still understand this old big cat body language.

Cats, as big as tigers or lions, as small as a house cat, do not blink involuntarily, except in extremely rare instances.

Instead, they have turned the act of blinking into a friendly gesture. It may or may not say, look, I'm comfortable enough around you to close my eyes, I don't think you'll pounce on me and try to eat me if I close my eyes.

Cats are not stupid, house cats will not interpret the involuntary frequent human brief blinks as an attempt to communicate. They will, however, interpret a slow, long blink as one.

As a cat owner, you may actually be doing this already, without giving it much or any thought. Make a deliberate attempt.

Did it work? Did you get a response in the form of a slow blink with one or both eyes?

If not, try again. Cats are cats, after all, and will be darned if they always do what you want them to. When you get a blink response from your pocket tiger, pause, does it make you feel good? It should.

Which answers the question why you should do it. And no, it will not work with dogs.

Warning: Again, do not try this at home. Do not try it in the wild either. Do  not get close to a tiger, period.

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