When and why do tigers roar?

The situations during which tigers roar indicate that it is mainly used for long-distance communication. And the sound of the roar, which is obviously very loud, also supports this viewpoint.

Tiger roar
Tiger roar. Image: MikeB

Tiger roaring is heard in a variety of contexts including the following as per Mel and Fiona Sunquist in their book Wild Cats of the World (buy the book if you are interested in the wild cats as it is the best)

  • after a tiger has killed a large animal
  • as a prelude to mating
  • during mating
  • when a female beckons a young and
  • when some tigresses advertise sexual receptivity (I expand on this below).

A contributor to the Reddit.com discussion on this topic, Nick Nicholas (40 years studying big cats 😎) says that male tigers roar to attract females. He correctly states that the home range of male tigers encompasses those of several females, and males know when a female is in season from their scent, and they will roar to attract her.

He also says that tigers roar to warn other animals not to approach and to warn other tigers if they are trespassing upon his home range.

RELATED POST: Tiger roar – intimidating, low frequency, long distance call

Tigresses advertising sexual receptivity

Research indicates that some but not all tigresses do this. Mel Sunquist in his 1981 study entitled "The social organisation of tigers in Royal Chitawan National Park, Nepal", published by Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology writes that a female began roaring when she first came into heat.

She continued to call using the roaring vocalisation for five consecutive oestrous periods. She then stopped.

When she first started, she did it only a few times each night but then after two or three days the call frequency increased. She began calling day and night.

On two occasions she roared 69 times in 15 minutes. It was clear to Mel Sunquist that the tigress was roaring "to summon a male, for the resident male usually arrived within twenty-four hours, often announcing his appearance with his own series of roars".

However, tigress roaring is said to be "idiosyncratic" to use the words of Mel and Fiona Sunquist because other tigresses observed in the same area rarely roared when in heat.

And sometimes, when they did roar during five consecutive oestrous cycles they did not call during subsequent cycles.

However, they state that "in general, though, observers have noted that tigers roar more often during the peak mating period than at any other time."

I hope this answers the question in the title. I suspect, by the way, that even in 2022, humans have more work to do to fully understand tiger roaring.

P.S. One scientist, Gustav Peters, believes that the tiger is technically not one of the roaring cats because of its anatomy but I don't that is a big issue.


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