This is a slightly grizzly subject but describes nature at its rawest and most magnificent. The tiger is the largest of the cats and a truly formidable hunter. It has large canine teeth and long claws that retract just like those of the domestic cat. The claws are highly effective at holding prey because they are at the end of massively strong forearms and shoulders. The tigers strength and weight enables it to overpower prey much larger than itself.
The tiger is a good sprinter, climber and swimmer. It is a generally excellent all-round athlete. The tiger is probably the world’s greatest predator. That is why it is admired and feared in equal measure by the human.
Despite being a good sprinter the tiger stalks prey slowly, precisely and cautiously, taking its time to get close enough to improve the chances of a successful kill. The striped coat provides camouflage by breaking up the tiger’s outline. The tiger uses all available cover to approach to within no more than about 20 meters (60 feet) and then rushes its prey.
The tiger usually attacks prey from the side or rear and the impact sometimes knocks prey over. This allows the tiger to grab the prey with its claws. The tiger then uses its strength to position itself to deliver the killing bite as soon as possible. Despite the tiger’s expertise at predation attacking and killing large prey can be dangerous for the tiger. Tigers can incur a nasty injury that can be a barrier to survival.
There are two types of killing bite: a bite to the back of the neck severing the spinal cord and a bite to the throat that suffocates the prey. The throat bite severs or obstructs the larynx and carotid arteries. This type is bite is for larger prey that is over about 220 pounds.
The basic and instinctive rule that tigers apply when deciding what bite to use is that if the prey is greater than half the weight of the tiger the most effective method is the throat bite.
Once prey is killed the carcass is dragged to dense cover if it is in the open. Feeding takes place as follows:
- feeding usually starts at the hindquarters;
- the abdominal cavity is opened and the entrails removed;
- then the carcass is sometimes moved a short distance or;
- the tiger eats the prey. The tiger will rest and feed until bones and skin are left;
- the remains of the carcass is sometimes covered with grass;
- a tiger can eat up to about 80 pounds at one feeding (35 kgs);
- large kills provide enough food for several days.
On one occasion four tigers ate a large domestic buffalo and an adult cow in six days. The estimated amount if flesh eaten was 430 pounds or 195 kilograms¹.
Prey includes following the following ungulates:
- wild pig
- wild cattle
- deer (weighing at the bottom end 65 pounds)
- gaur (weighting up to about 2,000 pounds).
Large prey such as elephants and rhinoceros are more or less safe from attack. Tigers attack any age of animal. Tigers have favorite spots for hunting and generally prefer water holes and areas where there is cover near well used trails.
Tigers are crepuscular hunters – preferring dusk and dawn as at these times prey is more active.
The tiger’s resting time is from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Sometimes tigers do hunt during these times. Tigers rarely rest in the same place on a day to day basis because they are constantly looking for prey. Tigers can travel up to 24 kilometers (15 miles) in search of prey during a night. They tend to travel along trails and roads.
Tigers hunt alone as opposed to in a group as it is more economical and efficient. Females make an average of about 45 kills per year. Tigers have not developed social structures like the lion due to the nature of its habitat (dense cover) and scattered and often small/medium sized prey.
- Sunquists writing in Great Cats
- Original Flickr photo