Stealth, strength and speed – tigers are built to hunt
Deer have acute senses and are always alert to signs of danger, but they don’t stand much of a chance when an experienced tiger decides they’re dinner. Leaping from the bushes, the cat’s claws grab the helpless prey before it’s realized what’s happening.
It’s not just quiet herbivores; with their fatal combination of stealth and power, tigers can take down bigger animals like buffalo, wild boar and even elephant calves. They usually only make a successful kill every eight or nine days, so their prey needs to contain enough meat to keep them going until their next meal.
Tigers are well adapted to a life of prowling and pouncing. Their sharp teeth can reach nine centimetres (three inches) long and easily tear through flesh and break bones. Their claws can grow to 13 centimetres (five inches), and are kept sharp on tree bark so they’re ready to stop prey from escaping.
Perfect for stealth, a tiger’s large paws allow for almost silent movement through the forest – something it practises from an early age. Keen eyesight and strong night vision mean they can hunt well at dusk or in the dark. Animals like deer have limited colour vision, so the striped cats are almost impossible to spot among tall grass; staying downwind of their targets, the hunters can stalk closer without being noticed.
When they’re about nine metres (30 feet) from their prey, tigers will crouch down and wait for the right moment to pounce. With incredible strength, they launch themselves forward and try to pull their victim to the forest floor. Sometimes the prey manages to dart out of the way, and a high-speed chase ensues; tigers can sprint at 80 kilometres (50 miles) over short distances. If the attack is successful, a tiger will quickly dispatch of the animal – either by snapping the spinal cord or clamping its jaws around its neck – and drag its meal into a sheltered spot. Anything that isn’t eaten immediately gets covered and kept for later.
Fragmented habitat is making it much harder for tigersto hunt. Competition is getting ever more fierce and hunting grounds are shrinking. Conservation organisations are working hard to preserve and protect areas of forest needed by the tigers; these big cats are stunning to watch, and hopefully they’ll be mesmerising people for years to come.
Find out more about International Tiger Day here.