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Dynasties: tigers and their solitary homes

Striking in appearance, tigers are fierce hunters of the forest which first evolved around two million years ago; today, they are sadly declining in population size due to poaching, habitat loss, and prey depletion.

Tasked with closing BBC documentary Dynasties, tigers are very unlike any of the other species featured throughout the series, preferring to live alone rather than cooperate in large social groups. Find out more about this solitary big cat through our selection of facts about how tigers behave and interact with others.

We hope you have enjoyed our blog series throughout the past month. Why not revisit past blogs in the series on chimpanzees, emperor penguins, lions, and painted wolves?

  • Hunting tigers are best left alone
    In contrast to the other big cats documented by Dynasties, tigers strictly hunt alone. Although we learnt in a previous blog post in this series that lions in fact actively hunt alone while the rest of the pride watches, tigers do not hunt with an audience. This is due to the difference in habitat: lions hunt in open habitats, such as savannas, while tigers hunt in a closed environment including forests, adopting a “stalk and ambush” tactic – with the assistance of their stripes to camouflage them against their background – which is not effective with a group. Tigers also have stronger teeth and a more powerful bite force than any other big cat, allowing them to deftly kill their prey alone with a crushing bite to the back of the neck.
  • Apprentice hunters
    Cubs are taught to hunt by their mothers from the ripe young age of six months. Prior to this, cubs are taken to kill sites to eat the felled prey aged 1-2 months, but they will not participate in the actual hunting, stalking, and killing for several months more. Cubs become independent at 15 months old, when their mother likely has a new litter, at which point they gradually separate from their mother. If the cub is female, the mother may donate some or all of her territory to her daughter, as this greatly increases the daughter’s chances of survival and reproduction.
Image credit: Malayan Tiger Cubs by Malcolm. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
  • Far-flung family
    Rather than living in a close-knit group like many other species featured in Dynasties, tigers have a dispersed social system through which they maintain social contacts but from the distance. Each tiger claims some land to be their territory, which they defend against intruders of the same sex. Female tigers have a smaller amount of territory, which is determined by how much food and water they need to survive and raise their cubs. Territory size also varies depending on the type of habitat – for example, the density of trees – as well as the tiger’s age; tigers mark their habitat primarily through scent and visual signals such as claw marks on the ground and trees to warn other tigers off.
Image credit: Bengal tiger roaring by Neerajsaxena0711. CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
  • A mate a week
    Tigers aren’t monogamous creatures. Instead, a male and female tiger will stay together for five to seven days, mating as much as possible during this time to ensure success. After a week is up, the male tiger leaves the female’s territory to go in search of another female to mate with in an attempt to father as many cubs as possible.
  • Male defence and breeding
    Male tigers aim to defend the territories of as many female tigers as possible. The stronger and the better at fighting the tiger is, the better he can defend the females’ territories from defenders, while also maintaining the size of his own territory. A male tiger’s success in female territory defence grants him exclusive breeding rights with those females, thus ensuring the strongest genes are passed on to future generations of tigers.
  • No cubs are safe
    Male tigers don’t have an active hand in raising their young, instead leaving the mother to be the primary carer, occasionally visiting to share kills with the mother and cub. The father will also continue to protect the mother’s territory…until he is displaced by a rival male. If another male tiger successfully takes over the father’s territory, he will also kill any cubs the ousted male fathered. This forces the female to come into heat and bear his offspring sooner.

Featured image credit: Siberian Tiger Family by Mathias Appel. Public Domain via Flickr.

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