What Do Tigers Do With Their Time?

What Do Tigers Do?

If you’ve ever been to a zoo with a tiger, you may have been struck by the majesty of these striped beasts. There’s a reason tigers are a common subject for animal worship where they’re native. But in captivity it’s not like tigers really get up to anything. You know, with the whole “being in captivity” thing. So, what do tigers do with their time anyway?

The Name “Tiger”

Lots of animals are named after what they do or what they look like. Trapdoor spiders make trapdoors. The etymology of the word “whale” literally means “big sea fish.” But it turns out the derivation of “tiger” doesn’t really have that. 

Stemming from the Latin tigris, which itself is derived from Greek (which is also tigris), the word “tiger” likely has Avestan roots. If you go all the way back, the Avestan word tigri (from which tigris is derived) means “arrow.” For which, all the way back, the tiger is named after. Reportedly, this is since a tiger’s leap is not unlike an arrow. Other derivations of “tiger” lead us to the words “sharp” or “pointed,” not unlike the word “arrow.”

Tiger claws are sharp and pointy, so it does all make sense. At least tiger name origins are cooler than “big sea fish.” 

What Do Tigers Do in the Wild?

In the wild, tigers are the apex predators of their region. That is to say no animal in their endemic food chains actively hunts tigers to survive. They’re physically the largest of the four “apex cats.” You probably know what the other three are–lions, jaguars, and leopards. 

Despite being apex predators, tigers do have animals they may consider peers. Some bears and other apex predators have been known to go for tiger cubs. Heck, tigers have been known to tangle with crocodiles.

Further Reading: What’s the Difference between Alligators and Crocodiles?

Assuming us gross humans aren’t involved, tiger’s are typically active during the daytime, able to navigate both the land and water with relative ease. Heck, they’ve been recorded to swim upwards 18 miles (29 kilometers) in a single day. Given that tigers can go toe-to-toe with crocodiles, it’s not like they have much to fear. 

As they’re apex predators, tigers have their own territories–territories others typically respect. Tiger territories are between 19-386 square miles (more evenly, 50-1000 square kilometers) in India. Though this range depends on the region and species of tiger–Manchurian tigers occupy territories between 190 and 1,540 square miles (500-4,000 sq km). Despite having their own territories, tigers do sometimes share their kills and are less subject to the pride typical to their lion peers. 

So that’s the day to day for a tiger. Chill, raise cubs (sometimes; rarely if you’re a male), eat stuff. It’s a little more complicated than that but we can’t really send anyone into the wild to stalk tigers for a week.

How Do Tigers Acquire Territory?

It depends on whether or not you’re looking at a male or female tiger. Females share territories with their mothers for a while. Over time, the amount the two territories overlap goes down until the tiger is all on her own. 

Males leave the territories of their mothers at a younger age, and generally leave to find territories that don’t have other male tigers. Sometimes he’ll reside in the territory of another male. Until he’s old enough to challenge and take down the incumbent male tiger, that is. 

Territory is marked with urine, scat, and the like. 

Tiger Hunts

Tigers are solitary by nature, especially when they hunt. For a while, we thought they only hunted at night. Turns out without people involved, a tiger will typically hunt during the day. They’re otherwise ambush predators, though in a more active way than animals that’ll just sit and wait. A tiger on the prowl will stalk prey until they can sprint up to them (at like 40 mph) and just take them down with their size alone. 

While tigers prefer eating their own kills (sometimes sharing it with other tigers), they have been known to poach kills from other endemic predators. Sometimes times are tough and you have to swallow your pride–along with your dinner. As such, they compete with leopards, hyenas, crocodiles, bears, and pythons. Sometimes these animals will prey on each other because of the circle of life. Or hunger. Probably the hunger.

Tigers in Captivity

As we mentioned earlier, tiger territories are typically a wide range. They’re the type of size you won’t find in a zoo. When was the last time you saw a 1,000 square kilometer zoo? And we’ll add that more tigers live in American homes than zoos. Again, how many people own houses bigger than zoos? Probably the people who can afford a pet tiger. But we digress.

Despite being apex predators, tigers are no strangers to threat. Mostly of the human variety. Luckily for those in captivity, they’re generally safe from other people–because they’ve already been captured by people.

However, tigers don’t get to do much hunting in captivity if they do at all. Which generally stresses them out–yes, animals can absolutely get stressed. If you’ve ever had a pet you know what we’re talking about.

Captive tigers are also more likely to be inbred, which can bring a slew of complications. 

Anyway, if you were wondering what tigers did in captivity–it’s basically nothing. They do more interesting things in the wild. Which is why it’s a shame that they’re not only endangered, but their populations are decreasing. If you want to support tigers, there’s Panthera’s Save the Tiger fund.

Turns out other animals can be named after tigers. Find them here.