Eye on the Prize: The Incredible Ocular Ability of the Tiger

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For anyone travelling to India to see the magnificent Panthera tigris in the wild, the more information gleaned before leaving for a Tiger tour, the more fulfilling the experience will be.

While on a Tiger tour in the Indian subcontinent, the safari trips into the jungle will take place first thing in the morning or late into the afternoon, when the light is dim and dusky and the animals are most active. This is partly due to the fact that this is the coolest part of the day, but also because the Tiger can take advantage of its incredible eyesight, which serves it brilliantly even in the lowest of light. These big cats are supreme hunters and their incredible sense of sight is six times stronger than our own.

How Whiskers Help

The big cats use their sense of touch and sight in conjunction with each other when it comes to hunting at night. The ‘mystacial’ whiskers allow them to navigate their way through the darkness, when their pupils have trouble focussing on objects that are very close by. Scientists now believe that the big cat’s brain processes sensory and visual inputs in parallel in order to aid their hunting and survival abilities.


Eye function and ability is controlled by photoreceptors, of which there are two types. One type is sensitive to different colours while the other picks up on and reacts to light and dark. A Tiger’s eye has more of the second type than the first, which is why the animal can hunt so successfully under the cover of darkness.

The ‘Visual Streak’

Cats have a rather prominent horizontal streak, known as the ‘visual streak’, which runs through the centre of the eye. The streak is actually a dense concentration of nerve cells that helps detect movement in a highly superior way. In comparison, our own visual streak is round, which means we have a more general sphere of vision and can see movement across all planes rather than a highly focused area.

Reflective Retinal Layer

The big cat’s ability to see in the dark is key to their survival and their eyes are beautifully adapted to do so. Reflective layers at the back of the retina allow light multiple pathways to reach and stimulate the light receptor cells that make up the retina.

The Third Eyelid

Like the human eye, the eyelid of the big cat covers and protects the eyeball but, unlike ours, they (along with several other animals) have a third eyelid, which is opaque and provides an extra layer of protection. This additional layer, called the ‘nictitating membrane’ helps keep the eye from drying out and also works to clear the cornea of dust - all helping to maintain excellent eyesight.

Panthera tigris is magnificently well adapted to its environment, which is another reason being able to observe it in the wild is such a joy and a privilege. A well organised Tiger tour with a reputable and eco-friendly operator is the safest and most effective way to enjoy this memorable, once in a lifetime experience.
About author: Desiree Michels

Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Tiger watching. As a passionate lover of wildlife, Marissa chooses the expert-led Tiger tour itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of species in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.


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