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What Do Tigers Eat in Zoos?

Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years work within zoos.

What Do Tigers Eat?

Tigers are carnivores and in the wild will normally kill other animals to eat though they will steal food from other carnivores if the opportunity arises. Depending on the size of the kill and how much was consumed it may be several more days before another kill is made. In a zoo environment keepers balance out the food provided to ensure that the tigers remain fit and healthy.

The tiger subspecies vary in size from the Amur Panthera tigris altaica which may weigh as much as 700+ lbs down to the tiny Sumatran Panthera tigris sumatrae which averages out at around 265+ lbs. Zoos will adjust the amount of food given according to the weight of the
individual animals. The average daily zoo fare for the average size tiger would be 15 lbs meat for a male and 13 lbs for a female. They are easily capable of eating three to four times this amount though.

Some dysfunctional zoos will deliberately breed white and subspecific hybrid tigers which are of no conservation value. As some of the white tigers are designer bred 'commercial' crosses and have both Bengal and Amur genes the weights may fluctuate.

Amur Tiger

Amur Tiger

Amur Tiger

Normal Diet

Through a large part of the world beef would be the normal meat fed. It is not always the case though. In some Middle Eastern zoos they will feed donkey and camel meat. In Indonesia at the Taman Safari they feed mainly imported Kangaroo meat. Horse and Pony, Pig and Goat, Calf, Water Buffalo, Deer, Chicken and Rabbit are all in use in some collections. Even a few Fish may be given on occasion.

Some collections do not feed 'meat' as such at all but feed processed meat manufactured from meat bi-products (feeding of exclusively processed feed and boneless meat leads to skull malformation in captive tigers). At the same time there are zoos which feed heads almost exclusively to their large cats and argue that these are the best food. They are fooling nobody but themselves as in reality they are looking for a cheap option.

Whatever it is that is being fed it will usually be accompanied by a mineral/vitamin supplement. There are several of these on the market especially manufactured for large cats such as tigers. These include 'Mazuri' who have a range of products to add to feeds. Normally this will involve scoring the meat with a knife and rubbing the powdered supplement into the flesh. Most Tigers find it quite palatable and will normally lick it off and ingest the supplement before they start eating.

Sumatran Tiger

Sumatran Tiger

Sumatran Tiger

The Meat Diet

In the wild Tigers will feed in the main on the meat of their prey but will also eat some of the internal organs, stomach contents as well as skin and bone. Within a zoo to offer something like this to tigers is not just natural but is life enriching as well.

Sadly some zoos will look on giving bone or hide to their tigers as enrichment rather than established routine. Other collections will actually pluck chickens before they feed them to their tigers and so deny their animals not just the activity of plucking them for themselves but the actvity as well.

One or two zoos deviate from the norm and will feed larger food items and not offer food again for several days. Whereas this may be more 'natural' there are few, if any benefits to such systems.

Professional Zoo Keepers will regularly pick suitable grasses for their Tigers and make this available. In the same way that a domestic cat will eat grass to help it cough up fur balls and small pieces of bone Tigers like to do the same. Even if tigers may be held in grass enclosures it is best to bring 'untainted' grass from elsewhere.

Tigers which are used to a diet of beef are likely to turn up their noses when given something different like mutton or goat. They will eat it but it may take them a few days to get round to it.




Live Feeding

Live feeding of tigers and other large cats is not necessary. In fact it is cruel and unnecessary and is the mark of the ignorant dysfunctional zoo. It may be natural for tigers to kill but it is a natural activity that they can manage quite well without.

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The instinct to kill remains with all big cats regardless of how many generations they have been bred in captivity. The only time then that live feeding should ever be 'taught' in captivity is if a big cat were to be returned to the wild. As the wild is in a mess it is highly unlikely that many tigers will be returned to the wild in the near foreseeable future. For release animals the capability to successfully hunt and kill would be as important as fear and distrust of human beings.

Good modern zoos have no immediate plans to return Tigers to the wild anytime soon. Zoos are about the cooperative long term management which consists of breeding programmes for genetically viable and healthy populations. Release may be possible in many years to come if a safe and healthy wild is available. The anti-zoo groups attempt with phrases like "it is extremely difficult to return a captive-bred big cat to the wild and this practically never happens" to instil misinformation. The good zoos have not said that this is an immediate intention, far from it, so that anti-zoos imply a lie which they have invented themselves.

Feeding Time

Animal Rights/Anti-Zoo groups will often, in their blissful ignorance (or deliberately), state that tigers in captivity are showing signs of madness because of the animals pacing up and down. Most all big cats pace in the hour or so leading up to feeding time. They get excited. They do not do it all the time. They may do it at other times too as they progress round their 'territory' as they would in the wild....but spend the day in a zoo and you will see that it is not a constant behaviour.

Locking in
Zoo visitors like to see big cats at 'feeding time' and some collections make a feature of it and will advertise the times at which it will take place. This may involve throwing the feed into a pen, hiding it within the enclosure ot suspending it on poles or zip lines. At times, and as routine in some collections feeding time will coincide with locking animals into inside enclosures. This allows vacated pens to be cleaned or maintained.


coshu from London, United Kingdom on October 19, 2013:

Great articles! Very detail on what the tigers eat. I also read that tigers would sometime eat frogs, crabs, and large monitor lizards.

Also in the wild, tiger eat wild fruits and berries to get vitamins

SITE HERO on June 13, 2013:

I've been told by one zoo manager that all of the meat eating animals get fed all of the children who get caught climbing over the fence and not paying an entrance fee to the zoo.

So, with that in mind, next time you skip school, don't try and sneak into your local zoo without paying. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

P.S The Tigers especially enjoy eating little boys.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 30, 2011:

Thanks Tammy.

Tammy Root on May 30, 2011:

Great hub Peter!

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 28, 2011:

Alladream74 - Thank you.

Victor Mavedzenge from Oakland, California on May 28, 2011:

Had never thought about this topic before, I like tigers but not in captivity.Thanks

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 26, 2011:

Thanks mulberry1 - Yes pacing is normal and they don't do it all the time. I am very fond of domestic cats...but dogs too.

Christine Mulberry on May 26, 2011:

Great information. I do hate seeing tigers and other cats pace back and forth, so your experience which says it's fairly normal is reassuring. I have domestic cats that I love and I see so many similarities with these beautiful tigers. I love watching them (the big cats and my kitties) they have amazing physical abilities.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 26, 2011:

@IndoVillas - I hope you get to Africa one day. Thank you for your comment/

IndoVillas on May 25, 2011:

You definitely know a lot about tigers, nice hub! I always wanted to go to Africa to see the other big cats in the cradle of life.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 24, 2011:

stars439 - Thank you for your kind words. I do care about animals.

stars439 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on May 23, 2011:

Wonderful hub. Very interesting, and you seem to understand the nature of the animals, and have some good ideas on helping them live their lives with some dignity, and in a nutritional manner.I bet you enjoy your work. God Bless You.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 20, 2011:

agusfanani - The grass always helps otherwise they will 'gag' for ages. Domestic cats are just small tigers really. Thanks for reading.

agusfanani from Indonesia on May 20, 2011:

I didn't know that tiger also needs grass to help it throw up undigested things. Very informative hub about tiger's diet and eating habit.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 19, 2011:

Wesman Todd Shaw - Each to their own and no objections on my part but I have always doubted the sanity of those people who insist on feeding their dogs and cats vegetarian food. From one carnivore to another, thank you for your comment.

Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on May 19, 2011:

We knew it would happen sooner or later. . . the anti meat crowd is attacking the wild carnivorous critters, calling them "killers."

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 18, 2011:

Thank you ahbless - Yes I have done a little sightseeing in Kenya...but not on the normal tourist trail.

ahbless on May 18, 2011:

Very informative. Have you been sightseeing in Kenya's wildlife National Park. I hope to go there someday to take a tour.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on May 16, 2011:

Itis such a beautiful animal. How can man kill it?

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 15, 2011:

Thank you chamilj. I am sure though the meat photo would have tigers salivating. Many zoo keepers are vegetarian and will butcher and prepare feeds for carnivores.

chamilj from Sri Lanka on May 14, 2011:

I like your article and pictures except "Meat" photo. Sorry I am vegetarian.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 14, 2011:

Thanks Alastar......Hello Edwin I daresay that feeding time would become even more popular with your idea.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 14, 2011:

Thank you feenix. Actually Purina does come into it in a small way. I believe they are the holding company for Mazuri these days, and they manufacture the vitamin and mineral supplement.

Edwin Clark from Thailand by way of New York on May 14, 2011:

They should feed poachers who hunt tigers to tigers in zoos. I think that would be a great deterrent ;)

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on May 14, 2011:

Appreciate the explanation Peter. Your of course correct about the injured cats. This particular one had a habit of waiting around the hovels of a tormentor or two. The final hunt for the Tiger had my heart racing a bit, which doesn't happen much with reads. Anticipating your next one.

feenix on May 14, 2011:

Peter, no Purina Cat Chow for those big fellows, heh.

Seriously, once again you have published a well-written informative hub about various kinds of zoos and the animals that inhabit them. Because I am quite an animal lover, I really do enjoy reading your works. Thank you.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 14, 2011:

Thanks Alastar. The processed meat eating caused the muscles involved in eating to waste and in turn they stopped pulling upon bits of the skull which then grew out of the normal.

Wounded big cats will often go after the easiest prey...which is often man. A porcupine quill in the foot may make any carnivore think there must be something easier.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on May 14, 2011:

Purrr for sure Peter. A most interesting and well done article. Wonder what that says about the processed meat from bi-products causing skull malformation. This has really been informative and did you hear about that Siberian Tiger that got tired of being poached and wounded and finally started hunting the men down one by one with a human like intelligence and cunning. It took half a dozen highly trained men to track him down and even then he ambushed the squad and was inches away from the point guy flying through the air when a lucky semi- burst got him.

BabyCheetah from Melbourne on May 14, 2011:

Great and informative article :)

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 13, 2011:

Thank you Lynn

Lynn S. Murphy on May 13, 2011:

Beautiful animals. Thanks for the information. Very interesting.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 13, 2011:

I am glad you found it so J.S.Matthew Thank you.

JS Matthew from Massachusetts, USA on May 13, 2011:

Very useful and interesting!


Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on May 13, 2011:

Thank you Casey.

Mike and Dorothy McKenney from United States on May 13, 2011:

Loved your article. I am a big cat/small kitty lover, but I can't have one right now, so I love reading about all things feline. Great stuff and great photos. Voted you up and will be following you. Purrrrrr.

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