How much space do tigers need?

A secondary question to the one in the title concerns the amount of space a tiger needs in a zoo. They are one and the same question. The starting point, I believe, is to ask how much space tigers need in the wild. I believe this requirement is innate. I believe that it is inherited and hardwired into their DNA. 

Tiger in captivity
Tiger in captivity. Photo: Pixabay

I do not believe that it makes any difference whether a tiger is born in captivity, in a zoo, or whether they are born in the wild. They need a certain amount of space in order to express their natural behaviour. It is an enormous amount of space.

It depends upon where the tiger lives in the wild as to how much space they need because space is dependent upon the availability of prey. Where prey is scarcer the tiger has to roam over a larger area and therefore his home range is larger.

For instance, in the far east of Russia in Sikhote-Alin, based on snow tracking data, the ranges of female and male tigers were estimated to be 200 to 400 km² and 800 to 1000 km² respectively. For the sake of clarity, a space the size of 1000 km² would measure 20 km on two opposing sides and 50 km on the two other opposing sides.

Each male's range overlaps those of 1-3 females and male ranges overlap almost completely. Males do not use the same area at the same time and therefore can keep their distance. The ranges of females don't overlap.

These ranges of the Siberian tiger are about 10 to 20 times larger than those in India, specifically in Chitwan. The difference is due to differences in prey density and because prey are migratory.

Some female tiger ranges can be as small as 10 km² and the largest can be at about 51 square kilometres in India. Chitwan includes, or is, a prey-rich floodplain and female tigers in this area can have ranges at a diminutive 20 km² because they don't have to go too far to catch the animals that they eat.

I'm not sure that I need to explain how much space tigers have had zoos. We've all seen zoos although they do vary in the amount of space they allow tigers. In many poor zoos tigers can be kept in small cages measuring about 15 x 30'. In more advanced zoos they may have several acres to wander in. The contrast in space available to captive and wild tigers is stark.

That said, captive tigers have lived for as long as twenty-six years, and twenty years is not uncommon according to my reference book Wild Cats of the World. Their lifespan in the wild is certainly shorter and a female is doing well if she lives to 15.

No doubt the cats adapt to their confinement and their ability to kill time with snoozing and sleep helps but we don't know how stressed they might be by it. Some wild cat species do better than others. It is said that jaguars do well in zoos whereas sand cats don't.

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