If two tigers meet in the wild, will they fight?

If two tigers meet in the wild, will they fight? Well, the first point to make is that in the wild, each tiger has a territory about as big as a modern city. Male ranges are a lot bigger than females' and male ranges include female ranges.

Territorial ownership is marked out by spraying scented urine against trees and scratching the bark with sharp claws. This is a way of tigers preventing meeting up. It's a way of keeping them apart because they realise that fights between rivals can be so damaging even to the winner that it may impair their survival.

So male tigers avoid other male tigers and female tigers avoid other female tigers. When a male tiger meets a female even outside the breeding season there is a small friendly greeting using a close call sounding like: fuf-fuf-fuf.

But there are two instances under which tigers might fight: times of flux and tension over resources and territory.

The most sought-after resources for a male tiger in the wild are female tigers and food. Male tigers compete for access to females to mate and females compete with other females for access to food in order to feed their offspring.

One scientist observed three male tigers fighting over a single tigress. He watched from a tree. She called them and three males turned up. The first male approached and a second darted out of a ticket and leapt on the first. 

Ultimately, the first tiger was badly wounded and retreated. The victor was also wounded and approached the female tiger but when he got close to her the third tiger attacked him and drove him off.

Tiger brothers fight hard in Ranthambore National Park in Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan in northern India. Photo: Harsha Narasimhamurthy
Tiger brothers fight hard in Ranthambore National Park in Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan in northern India. They have become independent and any brotherly love has gone. Photo: Harsha Narasimhamurthy

The frequency of these sorts of fights depends upon the density of tigers in a specific area and it depends on how stable the home ranges are. In other words, whether the social system is stable or unstable.

This is partly dependent upon the age and health of a male occupying a certain home range; his territory. This is the resident male. If he is capable and young and his home range is well established and the turnover of tigers is low there is little fighting going on.

But if the resident male is kicked out of his home range and defeated or dies, it destabilises the area in terms of the relationship between the male tigers and there will be a struggle while a new male takes control. This is when a fight will occur and fights can also occur between two females.

The answer to the question the title is, yes, tigers do fight when they meet in the wild over territory which is a resource and over food which is also a resource and in terms of male tigers over female tigers which are also a resource. This is about competition to survive and procreate. A competition which leads to violence in the world of tigers and where the strongest survives.

It is the law as espoused by Darwin: the survival of the fittest.


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