Humans in a spaceship orbiting an alien planet have a machine that they can hook their heads up to that lets them take telepathic control (and receive the senses of) of massive (I think at least something like Rhinoceros-size) six-legged leonine creatures on the planet below. Not direct muscle control -- the creature just feels an intense desire to go in the direction the orbiting human in the headset wants it to go. The main human character, stays in daily contact with one creature over a few weeks. The main character gradually realizes through the link that the creature being coerced to travel to a coast (far outside of its usual hunting range) is actually intelligent.
The feline-like aliens don't see with eyes, instead having IR-sensing plates, I think perhaps due to a perpetually darkly overcast atmosphere.
At the end the main chracter actually meets the creature in person, I think (a shuttle touches down on the coast). I don't remember why the humans were there -- research? Maybe prospecting for resources? The planet was not remotely hospitable to humans -- I think it was either too dense, too hot, wrong gas mix, or some combination.
I had a copy of the paperback book that someone gave me, that was missing the front cover (maybe they got it from a book store's discards that are supposed to be pulped), but on the back was a picture of the snarling or roaring face of one of the creatures, black-furred like a panther. I think it was a gray- or silver-background cover.
This book would probably have been from the 1990s or 1980s.