Do male tigers kill female tigers?

The question is: "Do male tigers killed tigresses?" And the answer, in my considered opinion, is different when referring to wild tigers or captive tigers, which points to the source of what might be considered aberrant behaviour. If you have a different viewpoint, please comment and provide science in support please. I love good contributions.

Captive female Sumatran tiger killed by male while zookeepers tried to get them to mate
Captive female Sumatran tiger killed at London Zoo by male while zookeepers tried to get them to mate. Image: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

Wild tigers

In the wild, male tigers have much larger home ranges than those of females. And each male's range typically overlaps several female ranges. It seems like male tigers have a harem of females within their orbit. Consequently, there are no fights over territory between males and females, as I understand it.

Clearly, fights over territory can result in the death of one tiger.

Also, male tigers sometimes fight over access to a female, but this is a male-on-male fight.

I have read through a large section on reproduction and development of tigers in the esteemed book on tigers, Wild Cats of the World, and there is no reference to male tigers killing tigresses.

As is typical in feline reproduction, female tigers attract the attention of males when in oestrus and they sometimes call them with the roar. And as mentioned males sometimes fight over access to females, but I see no reference to males killing tigresses during mating or leading up to mating in the wild.

Captive tigers

As a consequence, it appears to me that the several stories of male tigers killing tigresses in captivity is to do with the fact that they are captive.

And it would seem to me, also, that the key element is stress. Because tigers live in a much-reduced space of about 1 acre in captivity compared to, for example, Siberian male tigers demanding a home range of up to 1000 km², stresses can build up.

The Born Free website supports this and provides us with an interesting analysis. They refer to a male tiger killing a female at London Zoo when the zookeepers tried to get them to mate. The photo on this page shows the female who was killed. They were considered to be perfect as a couple for mating but the male tiger, Asim, killed Melati.

The zookeepers had spent a lot of time introducing the male and female which is exactly what happened in other instances of males killing females in captivity under similar circumstances.

And zookeepers say that it is hazardous introducing males to females for mating purposes in captivity because of the real chance that the male may attack the female.

Another very recent example concerns Knowsley Zoo in the UK when a male Amur (Siberian) tiger, Miron, killed a female, Sinda, under the same circumstances with a single bite. She died in situ. The on-hand vets could do nothing to save her.

This doesn't happen in the wild. Not of my research in any case.

Dr. Chris Draper, of the Born Free organisation blames the fact that these matings were organised by zookeepers in captivity. He said: 

"This unfortunate event starkly exposes the restrictions of life in captivity. Unlike their counterparts in the wild, animals in zoos are denied the opportunity to choose their own mates, and trapped in enclosures without escape, aggression can quickly result in tragedy".

As I would also state, Dr. Chris Draper says that if you want to really do a good job of tiger conservation you should be doing it in the wild and not in captivity. So-called tiger conservation in captivity is half baked and in the several instances of males killing females during mating sessions it's a complete failure. It is negative conservation. It is going backwards.

As you can see Dr. Chris Draper refers to the fact that in the wild male tigers select their female partners among their 'harems'. Forcing a female and a male together despite the best efforts of zookeepers to match the pair, can lead to disaster.

The whole thing is too artificial and human managed. The male tiger is likely to be stressed and loses his composure.

It seems to me that the underlying stress of tigers in captivity is not something which is observed or recognised sufficiently by many zookeepers.


I've come to the conclusion that male tigers don't killed tigresses in the wild unless there are certain exceptional circumstances. However, in captivity males do kill tigresses sometimes when they are brought together for mating in order to create offspring for the purposes of conservation. And the cause is the fact that they are captive and in unnatural and inherently stressful environments. Their behaviour becomes as unnatural as their environment.

Often, for example the tiger subspecies is rare like the Sumatran tiger or the Siberian tiger. There are an estimated 400 individuals of both the subspecies. One female death in captivity is a big backward step in their conservation.


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