Categories: Zoos

Should tigers be housed together?

People are using Google’s search engine to find out if tigers should be housed together when in captivity. And the answer is no because tigers are solitary animals. A zoo needs to replicate, as best they can, what happens in the wild. Clearly they are unable to do it because in captivity they normally live in cages or enclosures. These are relatively small areas compared to their home ranges in the wild.

In the wild, tiger society, like that of almost all cats, is about individual cats living and hunting by themselves. They encounter each other sometimes and a male tiger will associate with a female tiger for mating purposes and occasionally share a kill but the only times tigers are housed with another tiger is (1) when they are mating and (2) when a female is living with her offspring. If you are a zookeeper reading this please contribute. I am open to counterarguments.

Sumatran tiger by Brookshaw Photography

Essentially solitary animals

Each individual tiger hunts for prey alone but there is a network between them which represents a social system, which is maintained through a combination of vocalisations, scent marks and visual signals.

I don’t work in a zoo and I have never managed a zoo. However, there must be a time when zoo management decide to try and create tiger cubs by mating a male with a female and that I presume is carried out under highly controlled conditions. On those occasions two tigers will be temporarily housed together for mating purposes.

If the mating is successful the female will be with her offspring so once, again until the cubs are weaned, there will be a situation in which tigers are housed together, albeit a mother and her cubs.

Tiger bites during mating. Photo in public domain. Here you see tigers together in captivity but temporarily. Picture in public domain.

Seeing captive tigers together

The question in the title may have been prompted by pictures on the Internet of tigers in close proximity with each other in captivity. For example a lot of American private zoos have tigers apparently living together. It must be the case that when tigers live together like this, in captivity, it is because they were raised from newborns together and they are also semi-domesticated, or as domesticated as they can be as tigers. This suppresses natural behaviour. All they’ve known is living in small spaces and in an artificial environment. They probably are socialised to their zookeepers as well and become somewhat like a pet albeit a dangerous one. So you will see pictures of tigers living together in cages but it is in an unnatural state, created artificially.

Tigers as pets

You will also see tigers as pets in the homes of some celebrities. This is rare but you’ll see tigers living with tigers and tigers living with lions and also ligers and tigons living together. All these scenarios are artificial and the natural behaviour of these animals has been knocked out of them. The old circuses achieved the same state of affairs.

Land tenure

To return to the wild briefly. In the wild you will find that a male tiger’s “land tenure” i.e. the area of land which he considers his home (home range) encompasses the home ranges of three females. And he will visit these females to mate.

Mating

A brief note on tigers mating. When tigresses are reproductively active they come into oestrous about every 25 days. They increase scent marking which ensures that the male arrives. They spend no more than a few hours together mating and the interval between the sessions is normally 25 days. The female tiger then increases the rate of scent marking, inviting the male, and the couple spend two days together and the male leaves. If conception is not achieved the female continues to cycle and the male returns 25 days later.

I’ve mentioned in brief the mating process because it obviously informs zookeepers as to how they should prepare their tigers for mating in captivity. Comments and contributions are welcome.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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