Are tigers eating all our food?

IFAW's Tiger Rehab Center project gives us a unique opportunity to observe how tigers feed, what their preferences are and what they do with their food.One of the principal causes that lead to the extinction of large predators is their competition with humans for food. Humans exterminate predators, accusing them of eating too many ungulates who are their common food. This conflict is centuries old – it began as soon as humans started transforming and exploiting habitats. Regrettably, tigers too are victims of this conflict. It seems humans are prone to overestimate how much a tiger needs to eat to survive.

It’s very challenging to have a precise estimate of a wild tiger’s food demand in the wild. A captive tiger’s diet in a zoo does not give us a full picture of how this predator feeds in the wild either, because this picture is distorted by factors such as small enclosures, limited physical activity, heated facilities, apportioned feeding etc.

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At our Tiger Rehabilitation Center in Far East Russia, a tiger’s feeding closely approximates natural conditions – that is, tiger diets are as close as possible to what they would be eating in the wild like deer and boar, their natural prey.

The Rehab Center gives us a unique opportunity to observe how tigers feed, what their preferences are and what they do with their food.

So far, our observations show that even in groups of the same age, such as Kuzia and Boria or Svetlaya and Ilona, these tigers are not competing with each other for food. That is, they can quietly eat together even if just one of them has actually made a kill. Alternatively, one tiger waits quietly until the other one finishes eating, and then approaches quietly and starts eating too. We have never observed any aggressive behavior in tigers when they feed.

After a hunt, tigers can easily drag a 70 to 90 kg prey to a secluded spot – we call them "feeding sites". These sites become a tiger’s permanent "canteen". On these sites, tigers pluck their prey's hides.

After they finish eating, tigers have learned to hide their kill because crows and other scavengers feed on tiger kills all the time and can steal a lot of meat. For example, in one hour, 20 to 30 crows can snatch 40 kilos of meat! Even a 120-kilo tiger can’t eat that much meat in one hour. Tigers have managed to adapt to such permanent companions as carrion crows and have learned to minimize their losses.

Tigers consume a lot of food during the first day after a hunt. They eat almost a half of their prey that day. The next day, tigers will rest for almost the entire 24 hours or move around their territory lazily. For the next 5 to 7 days, tigers will consume the remaining food. To stay in good physical shape, predators need a fasting day. So, a tiger’s optimum feeding behavior is one kill every ten days (considering deer or hog weighing around 65- 75 kgs). This kind of diet keeps tigers well fed.

In short, a tiger needs 5-6 kilos of meat a day. In other words, a young tiger can lead a normal life killing three ungulates per month.

Our observations are showing numbers that are half of what many critics contend.

So, are tigers eating all of our food? What do you think?

--EB

For more information about IFAW efforts to protect tigers, visit our campaign page.

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Experts

Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Gail A'Brunzo, IFAW Wildlife Rescue Manager
Wildlife Rescue Manager, IFAW HQ
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
Director, International Environmental Agreements
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Regional Director, South Asia