Tigers and Territory: The Issues We See with Home Range Size and Conservation in these Big Cats

Many big cats have large home ranges or territories. Cats like mountain lions or pumas, tigers and bobcats don’t live in big groups like lion prides. Instead, they live by themselves most of the time, except when a mother is raising cubs or sometimes when a male and female hang out together around mating time. Many people think tigers are beautiful and majestic, but keeping them in the wild seems to be kind of difficult—they are currently listed as endangered because tiger populations have decreased by 50% in the last 30 years or so4. Tigers are native to Asia, and Asia has a lot of people (4.4 billion in 2014). When human populations get really big, it’s had for other animals to coexist with us.

For tigers, population density depends upon the density of their prey, which may also be scarcer where human populations are expanding. Tigers commonly eat other mammals, like deer and other hoofstock which are known for being skittish and can be hard to catch. One model suggests that male Amur tigers must consume at least 25 prey per year, non-reproductive females consume 20 prey/year and mothers raising 4 cubs require 54 prey/year8. That is quite a lot when your prey is hard to find and catch, so it might make sense that tigers have a big home range. They have to search pretty far to find enough food when the food is also trying not to be found. Prey density is declining in native tiger habitat6. That makes getting enough to eat even harder. Sometimes people’s livestock are easier to get, which means that livestock depredation is one of the biggest reasons we see conflict between humans and tigers.

A tiger’s home range size can vary a lot depending on the place you’re looking at. One study in Thailand found that male tigers’ ranges were around 267–294 km and female’s ranges were around 70–84 km7. But a study in Bangladesh found that a couple females had an average home range of 14.2 km2, which is much smaller.

According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), some of the current conservation projects for tigers in the wild are focused around preserving their habitat and reducing tiger-human conflict10. Because tigers need so much habitat for those big home ranges, one of the first steps in their conservation is preserving enough habitat to support a good sized population. In order to do that, organizations like WWF are working to try to influence agriculture, paper and timber industries, among others, to use sustainable practices that minimize loss of forest land. To reduce conflict with local communities, organizations like WWF rely on innovative solutions and education. In regions where the conflict most often occurs, some strategies might include scare tactics, negative conditioning and capturing tigers to assess their condition because tigers in good condition are not usually the ones who are desperate enough to attack humans and livestock9.

So what do these big sizes and big differences in home ranges mean for conservation? A lot! We know that in order to conserve tigers in the wild, we need to conserve big enough patches of their habitat for them to move through, ideally without running into and having conflicts with people. Because the density of their prey influences their feeding behavior and potentially the size of their range, we might have to consider how to maintain those species at good levels (and figure out what those good levels are). In order to reduce conflict with humans and hence reduce killings by humans, we need to learn more about how tiger home ranges change around people, and how tigers move through populated areas. Helping people build safe enclosures for their livestock might be one thing to try. Do you have any good ideas? Leave them in a comment below!!

Here are some of the sources I used. If you’re interested in tiger behavior or tiger conservation, you should let us know what articles and papers you like, too!

– Leorah McGinnis


  1. Athreya, Vidya. et al. “Movement and Activity Pattern of a Collared Tigress in a Human-dominated Landscape in Central India.” TROPICAL CONSERVATION SCIENCE1 (2014): 75-86. Web.
  2. Barlow, Adam. et al. “Femalle Tiger Panthera Tigris Home Range Size in the Bangladesh Sundarbans: The Value of This Mangrove Ecosystem for the Species’ Conservation.” ORYX1 (2011): 125-28. Web.
  3. Bhattarai, Babu, and Klaus Fischer. “Human-tiger Panthera Tigris Conflict and Its Perception in Bardia National Park, Nepal.” ORYX4 (2014): 522-28. Web.
  4. Chundawat, R.S., Habib, B., Karanth, U., Kawanishi, K., Ahmad Khan, J., Lynam, T., Miquelle, D., Nyhus, P., Sunarto, S., Tilson, R. & Sonam Wang 2011.Panthera tigris. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on11 February 2015.
  5. Miller, C.s., M. Hebblewhite, Y.k. Petrunenko, I.v. Seryodkin, J.m. Goodrich, and D.g. Miquelle. “Amur Tiger (Panthera Tigris Altaica) Energetic Requirements: Implications for Conserving Wild Tigers.”Biological Conservation170 (2014): 120-29. Web.
  6. Simcharoen, Achara. et al. “Ecological Factors That Influence Sambar (Rusa Unicolor) Distribution and Abundance in Western Thailand: Implications for Tiger Conservation.” RAFFLES BULLETIN OF ZOOLOGY62 (2014): 100-06. Web.
  7. Simcharoen, Achara. et al. “Female Tiger Panthera Tigris Home Range Size and Prey Abundance: Important Metrics for Management.” ORYX3 (2014): 370-77. Web.
  8. Soh, Yi Hui, Luis Roman Carrasco, Dale G. Miquelle, Jinsong Jiang, Jun Yang, Emma J. Stokes, Jirong Tang, Aili Kang, Peiqi Liu, and Madhu Rao. “Spatial Correlates of Livestock Depredation by Amur Tigers in Hunchun, China: Relevance of Prey Density and Implications for Protected Area Management.” Biological Conservation169 (2014): 117-27. Web.
  9. “Solutions.” Save Tigers Now. World Wildlife Fund. < http://www.savetigersnow.org/solutions>. Accessed 21 February 2015.
  10. “The Siberian Tiger Project: Managing Tiger-Human Conflicts.” WCS Russia. Wildlife Conservation Society, 2008. Web. 21 Feb. 2015.


15 thoughts on “Tigers and Territory: The Issues We See with Home Range Size and Conservation in these Big Cats

  1. kburrus

    I think a possible idea for these tigers could be increasing the population of their prey. maybe if they have amore abundant prey base then they wouldn’t have to resort to livestock. I think this would make a good study to look at the tigers behavior in a closed setting with increased prey. the study would need to look to see if their prey capture increased and if they are less interested in farms and livestock.

  2. ematth

    I really liked your article! It reminded me of when I was in Thailand surround by Tiger “petting zoos.” Did you run across any articles about those while doing your research? These “zoos” claim to be rehabilitation facilities; raising tigers in captivity to teach tourists about their conservation concerns. They allow tourists to come in and pet and hold the Tigers, but what large cat naturally wants to be pet by a human? Lots of research has come out on the drugs used on these Tigers to essentially calm them down so that they don’t attack tourists. Super interesting!

  3. leorah Post author

    I think in most cases where we’re concerned about large animal conservation it comes down to conserving all the levels of the food chain below them. Conserving prey could be a great way to address the conflict issues. But also, domesticated livestock are a lot easier to catch than wild prey, so there’s no guarantee that tigers would leave livestock alone. I agree with you that further study in this issue would be helpful!

  4. reneev

    I agree that the best way to conserve the tigers is to conserve large habitat patches. It may also be a good idea to look into creating some sort of corridor between the patches, if they must be broken up by travel routes or towns. This would keep the tigers safe from humans, as well as the livestock safe from Tigers. Of course, it is always hard to put plans like this into action in other countries, because it takes a lot of time and money, as well as support from the locals.

  5. mberne

    Of course, ensuring that their rural habitats are conserved should be a priority, but sometimes that is not possible! Potentially introducing more of their pretty to a certain area may help with this problem. That way they do not feel that they need to expand their search for food. Making corridors and blocking off areas also may help! I never knew how important home range size could be, does this have any effect on behavior in captivity where clearly their home range side is significantly smaller?

  6. leorah Post author

    Big cats are some of the most commonly called-to-mind animals when we think about stereotypies, like obsessive pacing, in captivity. It part of why zoos have really increased the focus on enrichment. I’m sure the confined spaces could be a huge contributing factor to these abnormal behaviors in captivity, because we know how much space they require in the wild.
    As for introducing more prey, I think that’s an interesting idea. But part of the problem there comes back to habitat size, too. We can’t just continuously reintroduce prey to these areas when the prey populations aren’t sustainable at that size. Smaller habitats have smaller carrying capacities. That’s just a fact of life. But that’s again why I stress habitat conservation in this article. And I think corridors would be a really good idea, if it was feasible economically and spatially, and if the tigers and prey used them sufficiently.

  7. Lisa Angeloni

    Based on the spatial needs of tigers, it seems that having large protected areas will be a key to keeping tigers from going extinct within our lifetime. And Leorah’s blog post makes a really important point that this will involve managing not only tiger populations but also managing the impacts of conservation plans on local human communities (e.g., the impacts on humans of protecting forested lands for tigers). Though human and wildlife needs are often at odds, there are some places where they may be compatible. Check out this 2014 paper that found pastoralists within a Tiger conservation hotspot of India would actually prefer to be resettled outside of forested areas because of declining income (with declining forest productivity) and low access to education and health services:
    Harihar A, Ghosh-Harihar M, MacMIllan DC. 2014. Human resettlement and tiger conservation – Socio-economic assessment of pastoralists reveals a rare conservation opportunity in a human-dominated landscape. Biological Conservation 169:167-175.

  8. amajor

    Tigers needing a large amount of land and a large amount of prey makes a load of sense. It’s kinda like being a rancher, you need a lot of cattle to make a lot of money and in order to feed all those cattle without having to spend too much money is to have a lot of land with a great deal grass. I think another way to help with the tiger population density is to help their prey, as in too look for what is good habitat for them to get good feed and water. If the tigers’ prey become fat and plump, the tigers will be doing alright as well. In order to take care of an animal (wild or domesticated), you have to take care of what supports them. All in all, I say that this article is a good deal.

  9. Lacey Humphreys

    I think that building enclosures around live stock can become very expensive especially in countries with high poverty. Deterrence methods would be the most useful for conservation, or even moving the tigers to patches with higher density of prey (but that might be costly too). I really liked the part where you talked about how body condition had a lot to do with human an livestock attacks. Is this because the tiger is becoming more bold or more desperate that they don’t care about the risk? Ideally, I would have to agree with you about maintaining larger habitats in order for the species to have larger home ranges.

  10. emtemple

    This topic seems very similar to the reintroduction of wolves in North America. Both seem to center themselves around the aspect of human predator conflicts. Humans tend to dislike what ever thing is disrupting their livelihood, such as predators killing off their money making livestock. With that said if conservationist can get the local people to support the conservation of these predators in someway I think that would help in maintaining populations sizes. A tricky situation to accomplish though and to do so the local people would have to feel like they are gaining something from doing so.

  11. ssteele1

    This type of thing really interest me, one of my long term goals is to start/become involved with a hands on species conservation program for tigers. I thought it was interesting that reproducing females need twice as many kills per year, but this makes sense because cubs are not adults until 2 years of age and stay with their mother during all adolescent stages. I’m hopeful for this species and it’s home range problem. I believe the standard home range for a Black-Footed Ferret is slightly larger than a football field, and they are raised in much smaller confinement in captivity. While a tigers home range is exponentially greater than those of ferrets, maybe we can apply the same concepts and they will learn to adapt upon reintroduction. Good article!

  12. Savimay

    I initially declared an Interdisciplinary Minor in Conservation Biology because one of my personal goals would be to work on the projects to conserve tigers in the wild. They are definitely a difficult species to conserve because, like you said in your blog post, their home range is large and they often conflict with local human populations. I think key points to tiger conservation are protecting what’s left of their habitat, educating people, and mediating the human conflict.

  13. cfalvo

    I thought you clearly explained the issue of habitat shrinkage and difficulty for tigers to find enough prey to sustain themselves. I find it interesting that males have a significantly larger recorded home range even though reproductive females need significantly more food and non-reproductive females need almost equal food as males. I would think this is due to territoriality of males (expanding and defending territory to find more females) with females being more timid in response (in part to ensure safety of offspring). I wonder how the difference in range size will effect the population in the long term, especially with increasing human presence.

  14. amccoy15

    I’m curious did you find any statistics to suggest that the scare tactics are working to keep the tigers away or are the tigers persisting to come close to humans because their food is hard to find. Also, are the tigers food source started to encroach on humans because they see that tigers aren’t allowed in these areas? it would be interesting if there was studies done in these things to see if the food source will become the problem next since they are skittish.

  15. leorah Post author

    I didn’t find much information on either of those things in my particular research, but they would be interesting to investigate further. If you’re interested I highly encourage you to check out the scientific literature! Very good ideas!!

Comments are closed.