Do tigers fight each other?

Yes, sometimes tigers do fight each other at times of flux and tension. The most sought-after resource for male tigers in the wild are females rather than food. Males compete for access to females. Females compete for access to food to feed their offspring.

Tiger brothers fight hard in Ranthambore National Park in Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan
Tiger brothers fight hard in Ranthambore National Park in Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan in northern India. Photo: Harsha Narasimhamurthy
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The still image on this page by photographer Harsha Narasimhamurthy and the video by tour guide Hansraj Gurjar provide us with a dramatic visual image of the style, ferocity and aggression of male tigers fighting. They are siblings named as T57 and T58 by the wardens, and a female was nearby. The photos and video were taken on October 15 2019. Perhaps they were fighting over the female. If they were, there are some excellent records of males fighting over tigresses in the reference book that I have.

For example, P. Hanley (1961) describes three male tigers fighting over a tigress. He watched from a tree as a tigress called and her call was answered by three males. As one of the males approached the tiger when a second darted out of a thicket, leapt at the first and almost landed on top of him. However, the first tiger managed to avoid the initial attack. They crouched low to the ground snarling and growling. Their tails lashed furiously from side to side. They lept and grappled with each other. The jungle “resounded with the noise of growls and roars”. A tiger was hiding in bushes nearby. The first tiger was badly wounded and retreated. The victor was also wounded and approach the tigress but before getting to her a third tiger attacked and drove him off.

When males compete to mate with a tigress the frequency of the fights depends upon the density of the tigers in the area in which they live. It also depends upon whether the social system is in flux or stable and the age and health of the resident male. Where there are well-established ranges and the turnover of tigers is low, the disruption is minimal and fights are rare. When a resident male is deposed i.e. defeated or dies the area is in flux and there is a struggle between new males to take control. At these times serious fights occur and they can occur also between females.

When tigers are concentrated in an area it increases social tension, competition and therefore the number of fights increase.

The references are: P. Hanley, Tiger trails in Assam published in 1961; McDougal C, The face of the tiger, published in 1977; Smith and McDougal and Sunquist, Female land tenure system in tigers published in 1987; Smith, Dispersal, communication, and conservation strategies for the tiger in Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal, a PhD dissertation; Smith and McDougal, The contribution of variance in lifetime reproduction to effective population size and tigers published in 1991. All are referencd in Wild Cats Of The World by Mel and Fiona Sunquist.

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