When do tigers hunt?

Night-time radio-tracking in India's tiger reserves indicates that tigers often hunt at night while moving slowly along roads and trails. They do this because it is quiet and they don't disturb prey animals. It means they don't have to brush through dense grass which creates noise. It is also more comfortable not to have to push through dense vegetation which might be wet and cold.

Tiger at night
Tigers mainly hunt at night all night. Photo: Pixabay (modified).

The usual routine for a tiger is to start looking for food shortly before sunset and to continue all night long. Siberian tigers live in very cold and snowy conditions and they can sometimes starve to death if the snow is unusually heavy. They avoid hunting in areas with deep snow cover because their prey won't be there. And also because it is difficult to walk through an unstable snow crust.

If the snow is deep they might take advantage of a frozen river bed or paths made by the animals that they are preying upon i.e. large hoofed animals.

It is believed that tigers know their range well and they know where their trail or track is leading to. They rarely wander around but move directly from one hunting area to the next as if they know what they're doing and where they're going. It appears that they have a mental map of the route in the area.

Roads and trails are important in moving around these areas and in understanding the geography of the area. Some routes are used several times in one week by the same tiger and sometimes on consecutive nights.

They often have favourite hunting areas that they visit regularly. Sometimes a tiger or tigress might choose a favourite hunting area and wait for perhaps a herd of deer to pass through or for a prey animal to have a drink. If an attempt to kill one of these animals is unsuccessful they will move on to another area.

The reason is that an unsuccessful attempt at killing an animal may lead to the other animals in a herd calling to protect the herd which makes it fruitless to remain in that area to continue hunting. Barking deer, hog deer and gaur, for example, all give loud, penetrating calls in response to tigers and leopards.

The general answer to the question in the title is that they hunt at night, throughout the night. They might travel 15 to 20 km per day and in one study they found that tigers travel 16 to 32 km per night. There are accounts of Siberian tigers travelling 50 to 60 km in a day but this may be unusual. 

Female tigers travel at about 0.7 km/h and travel about 7 to 10 km per night. One adult tiger in the Chitwan park often used the park road to cross the territory and covered the 30 km to do so in a night.

Source: Wild Cats of the World by the Sunquists.


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