The Complex Social Structure of the Tiger

The magnificent Tiger is a mammal that, despite its aggressive, powerful and fierce reputation, has attracted human attention for thousands of years. Belonging to the wider genus, Panthera, that includes Lions, Jaguars, Leopards and Snow Leopards, Tigers are the largest group and are characterised by their orange and black stripy coat.

Unfortunately Man now poses a significant threat to this beautiful creature, and it is only by raising awareness that the species will survive. Tiger watching tours in India are one of the best ways to see the big cat in the wild and an excellent way to support conservation efforts.

Defining and Protecting Territories

Well known to be solitary animals, this feline is very territorial and will fiercely defend its own range. The chosen area is claimed on account of its protective vegetation and its availability of prey and water. To define their territory, a Tiger will leave its scent on trees and rocks, in the guise of urine, musk and faeces. A female does this more frequently just before entering oestrus.

There may be many dens within a range in which a male can rest and in which a female can give birth and nurse her young. Females have smaller ranges than males and male territory often overlaps with that of up to three females. This defines mating rights and means that the male can mate with more than one female.

A range can be up to 1,200 square kilometres although in areas such as India, where the majority of Tiger watching tours are run, ranges are much smaller. This is because of the higher prey density.

When an animal dies, others try to settle in its space, and the successor may kill any cubs residing within the area. A young Tiger, after leaving its mother, may be allowed to share territory with a dominant male, but only until he ventures off and finds his own space.

How They Relate to Each Other

The social structure of this big cat can be difficult to understand and many questions remain unanswered. It is their solitary, secretive existence that makes their habits difficult to define. It is well recognised, however, that the male of the species is larger, but that the female can be as fierce when it comes to protecting her young.

Females are characteristically more accepting of other tigresses and indeed it is thought that these big cats, despite their anti-social nature, actually recognise each other. Research exists that suggests males will share prey with other members of their extended family, while females will sometimes raise their young with other Tigers they recognise. This characteristic behaviour is very different to that of most other feline species. The Lion may live in a pride but it is the male that feeds first with others sharing what is left, in order of hierarchy.

Communication

Tigers are surprisingly aware of each other socially and communicate by using vocal sounds. Depending on what is happening around them the vocalisations might be aggressive and given as a warning to stay away. These sounds may be hisses, meows, or low growls. As with the domestic cat, the purring sound is not a hostile one; instead it is done to draw another animal in. In the Tiger’s case, this is for mating.

For any budding wildlife enthusiast with a yearning to see this magnificent creature in the wild, a Tiger watching tour is definitely the best way to do it. Knowing more about the social structure of this magnificent animal makes any Tiger watching trip even more meaningful and memorable.

Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Tiger watching. Being passionate about her subject, Marissa chooses the expert-led wildlife holidays organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.

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Author: Desiree Michels