How Tigers Hunt

“Tyger Tyger burning bright
In the forests of the night…”

So begins a well-known poem about one of nature’s most beautiful animals. The tiger (Panthera tigris) is easily recognizable by its striking fiery coat of orange, decorated with thin black stripes. Although similar in size and shape to lions, unlike lions tigers are solitary creatures that prefer to live and hunt alone.

Their habitat varies widely, and as such so does their prey. Generally speaking, tigers prefer to live in forested areas that provide the necessary camouflage that allows them to hunt successfully. This is not to say, however, that they are unable to take down prey in the open. A tiger is a cat of opportunity. Almost anything that can be eaten by one, will be at some time. Just about the only animal that is usually safe from a tiger attack is the elephant, due only to its size. But baby elephants, or ones that are sick or old, may indeed be preyed upon.

It is generally thought that tigers are nocturnal hunters, like most cats. Actually, they prefer the hours of dusk, right after sunset, rather than the dead of night.

As for what is considered prey, that all depends on what types of animals live where the tiger lives. Tigers are found in different parts of the world, so whatever the local fauna consists of would be an accurate description of the local tiger’s diet.

Most of the time, they hunt either small animals, such as hares, monkeys, wild boar, and even birds such as peafowl; or larger hoofed animals like various species of deer, antelope, water buffalo, and even wild horses and camels.

A tiger is a big, powerful cat. Even though they look somewhat bulky and slow, they can reach speeds of up to 40 mph, making them a formidable predator. When chasing an animal, they will attempt to overpower it, either by knocking it down with a paw, or by leaping onto the prey and pulling it to the ground. For larger prey, the tiger usually then will bite the animal’s throat, cutting off air to the windpipe, and suffocating its prey, or puncturing the jugular vein. For smaller animals, they often bite the back of the neck to sever the spinal cord.

Problem tigers are those that either become man-eaters, or that prey upon domestic livestock. Most man-eaters are tigers that are, for whatever reason, unable to hunt their normal prey. This usually translates to mean old cats, or ones that have been injured. But some, even young healthy ones, simply develop a taste for human flesh and have been known to terrorize villagers. This is unfortunate for everyone: for the people, who must live in fear, and for the tiger, who will likely end up being shot.

As mentioned before, a tiger is an opportunist cat- and what better opportunity than penned-up livestock? Anything that man keeps for himself a tiger will gladly help itself to if given the chance. Cattle, goats, donkeys, horses, even dogs are often taken. This presents another danger to the tiger, who may be killed by an angry farmer trying to protect his livestock. Not that the farmer can be blamed for that.

Even other predators are not immune to a hungry tiger. Leopards, pythons, and even crocodiles have been documented as tiger prey, odd as it may seem.

In the world of predators, the tiger certainly holds its own. It is at the same time fear-provoking, awe-inspiring, powerful, and beautiful. Because it’s endangered, it is an animal that needs to be preserved, understood, and protected so that its ‘fire’ continues to ‘burn in the forests of the night’ for future generations to stand in awe of this amazing cat.