As carnivores, tigers’ diets comprise almost exclusively of meat. There are, though, very rare occasions on which tigers will resort to eating fruits, berries and grasses (usually to aid digestion). In order to survive in the wild, it is of paramount importance that tigers become accomplished hunters at a young age.
Because tigers are solitary animals, each specimen has to be able to hunt and kill prey for its survival, since there is not a pack to support them. In addition, they average one kill every eight or nine days, which means that their prey needs to be large enough to provide up to 40 pounds (or 18 kilograms) of meat in one sitting.
An Amur (Siberian) tiger focuses in a hunting position
When hunting, the tiger will conceal itself in bushes or long grasses close to their intended prey’s rear or side. They will gradually, silently sneak forward; stalking the animal, which is unaware of the hunter’s proximity. When it is approximately 20 to 30 feet (between six and nine metres) away from its victim, it will lunge out from its hiding place in an impressive display of power and agility. They are able to make jumps of more than 30 feet (nine metres), giving them a huge advantage over an animal that needs to escape this fierce enemy.
They pounce on their victim, using their strong hind legs to support the struggle with the prey and their front legs to pull the victim to the ground. Once under control, the tiger will snap the spinal cord just behind the head (for smaller catches) or grab the throat with its jaws (for larger prey) to ensure a speedy death.
It will then drag the kill to a secluded spot in which it can enjoy it in peace. What it does not finish, it will likely cover; returning to these leftovers later or the following day.
Tigers prefer cool, overcast conditions or evenings and nighttimes for their hunting. They are able to see in the dark far better than human beings, making them efficient nocturnal hunters. The tiger has several physical adaptations that facilitate its method of hunting. These include:
Teeth – The tiger’s teeth can measure up to nine centimetres (or three inches) in length, depending on subspecies and gender. They have 30 teeth, which are designed to help them to grip struggling prey, break bones and rip flesh.
Claws – Incredibly, the claws of a tiger can reach an amazing five inches (or almost 13 centimetres) in length. These are sharpened on trees and serve to immobilise prey that is running away at high speed. They are retractable, so that they do not cause discomfort when not in use.
Vision – The eye of this wild cat has a retinal adaptation that allows light to reflect back onto the retina as well as round pupils and yellow irises, all of which make tigers especially adept at seeing in the dark.
Speed – Tigers are able to reach speed-bursts of up to 50 miles, or 80 kilometres, per hour. However, this speed cannot be maintained over longer distances, and is only used to make the final attack and, hopefully, kill.
Hearing – The sense of smell in these able hunters needs to be acute so that they are able to detect prey that is moving quietly through the bushes or grasses.