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Eagles, Tigers a battle of terrain
Chestatee War Eagle - photo by SARA GUEVARA

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Mascot matchup

Each Friday night in the fall, local student athletes face off on the football field. But for a moment, let’s forget all that. Let’s take a different look at the battle — who would win in a fight, a war eagle or a tiger? The Times spoke with wildlife experts to determine the answer. And each Friday this fall, we’ll pit two different mascots against each other.

Tonight’s football matchup between the Chestatee War Eagles and Dawson County Tigers pits two teams close in driving distance and season aspirations.

The War Eagles (1-1) and Tigers (0-3), whose schools are less than 20 miles apart, are focused on building contending teams this year, and Chestatee seems to be one step ahead after its win over Johnson last week. Dawson County’s start to the 2010 season hasn’t gone so smoothly as it opened with three straight losses.

The last time these two teams faced off was in 2007 when the Tigers beat the War Eagles 49-10. But that was on the football field.

On the sidelines, mascots battle to keep fan spirits high. And this season, we’re taking a look at who would win a mascot battle — North America’s largest bird of prey, the eagle, or nature’s biggest cat?

Though this hypothetical battle is unlikely, there are some areas where both species of tigers and eagles can be found.

Golden eagles and tigers are each present in Asia, said Ken Riddleberger, state Department of Natural Resources’ Northeast Georgia regional supervisor for game management.

“If they met head to head, the eagle has the advantage of flying. If things get rough, the eagle can get away,” Riddleberger said. “The tiger has the size advantage.”

Tigers are known for their predatory savvy, power and stealth. As they hunt, they tackle prey with their massive front paws, and their transverse black stripes break up their outline in the wild. Full grown tigers can weigh up to 800 pounds.

“They wait in the shadows and pounce on their prey,” Riddleberger said.

Like tigers, eagles also perch at the apex of their food chain. Eagles have about a 7-foot wingspan, huge talons and great eyesight, and it’s a formidable bird, said Peter Gordon, education director for Elachee Nature Science Center.

Eagles, depending on size, feed on fish, rabbits and baby mountain goats or deer.

“An eagle has picked up a house cat from time to time,” Gordon added.

The birds are part of the raptor family, which includes hawks and vultures, and have a history of aggression and thievery.

It’s not uncommon for an eagle to sit near a body of water and wait for other birds to catch an unsuspecting fish. The eagle makes off with the prize, while the other bird leaves defeated and hungry.

Tigers seek out much bigger prey, such as deer and cattle. They’re also responsible for more human deaths than any other wild mammal, Riddleberger said.

So will paws and teeth prevail over talons and feathers this week?

Gordon said it’s a toss up.

Riddleberger said the strength of the eagle is the ability to spread its wings and fly.

“If it’s an aerial battle, the eagle wins. In a ground battle, the tiger wins,” he said.

But for sheer size and ferocity, Gordon said the tiger would be tasting victory.

“If they ever did cross paths, neither would come out the better for it,” he said.