As the largest big cats on the planet, tigers are intimidating creatures. They have an impressive strike force and can even crush bone with a bite.
However, tigers don’t necessarily look agile. Their bulky bodies and large paws weren’t designed for climbing.
And this begs the question: can tigers pursue prey up a tree? Or can they climb for other purposes?
Yes, tigers can climb trees if they wish. However, they seldom climb. Thanks to their impressive force and speed, tigers generally manage to catch prey on the ground and don’t really have to defend their meal. This is why most tigers lead an exclusively terrestrial life. Nevertheless, tigers can pursue prey vertically and can climb trees to rest or survey the territory.
Can All Tigers Climb Trees?
Tigers may not be the most agile members of the cat family, but all tigers can climb trees. It is just that they rarely do so.
Most likely, the reason tigers don’t climb is that they don’t have to. These big cats are apex predators, and their only real threat is humans.
Even though most tigers lead solitary lives – unlike lions, which live in prides – a tiger can protect its meal just fine. Thus, they don’t have to drag their food up a tree to keep it away from scavengers.
These big cats also have bodies that are more adapted to terrestrial life.
They have large paws that make it more difficult to climb trees. Due to their large body mass – a tiger can weigh up to 660 pounds – they also find it more difficult to drag their bodies up on vertical surfaces. However, this doesn’t mean that they can’t.
Like lions – and most other cats, as a matter of fact – tigers have strong, retractable claws they use to grip onto the tree bark and climb.
There are few studies on tigers and their climbing ability; nevertheless, Amur tigers at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo in England have been recorded climbing trees to reach their breakfast treats. Also called Siberian tigers, Amurs are the world’s largest and heaviest tiger species.
Bengal tigers have also been spotted in trees on several occasions. Considering that all other subspecies are smaller and lighter, it’s safe to assume that all tigers can and will climb trees if they’re motivated.
How High Can Tigers Climb?
There are no studies on how high tigers can climb, but anecdotal evidence suggests they can get as high as 30 feet above the ground on smooth-barked trees.
Like lions and grizzly bears, it is likely that tigers can climb as high as they want if they have to or feel motivated enough.
For instance, tigers in Bangladesh allegedly survived the 1969 floods by climbing into trees.
Vertical attacks were also reported in Nepal, where a female tiger seemingly climbed 15 feet up a tree to drag down the researcher observing it and its cubs.
How Fast Can Tigers Climb?
Since there are few studies on tigers and their climbing ability, it’s hard to say how fast they can go up a tree. However, it is almost certain that they can climb much faster than humans.
Most adult tigers don’t climb trees from a standstill but sprint into a run and launch themselves up.
Not only can they reach running speeds of 40 miles per hour, but they can jump up to 16 feet in the air. This means that a tiger can reach at least that height in just a few seconds.
Considering their strength, these cats might need under a minute to get as high as 30 feet.
Meanwhile, the average untrained human will likely need several minutes to escalate a climbing wall, so there is little hope for a person to climb into a tree faster than a tiger.
What tigers don’t excel at, though, is climbing back down.
As we mentioned above, tigers have strong and long claws (they can reach four inches in length) that aids them in climbing up headfirst.
However, these curved claws hinder their ability to climb down the vertical surface.
Because of them, tigers have to either crawl backward or jump down as soon as they are close enough to the ground. This makes tigers the poorest climbers in the big cat family.
Can Tigers Also Climb Fences?
Whether or not tigers can climb a fence depends on the material the fence is made of.
As long as the tiger can grip onto something, it will most likely be able to escalate a fence in the same way it escalates a tree – or even easier if the fence permits ladder-style climbing.
Again, there are no specific studies. However, big-cat experts claim that they can easily get on the other side of a 12-feet obstacle.
That said, tigers are unlikely to climb very smooth surfaces that offer no gripping possibilities, such as tall vinyl or metal fences.
Why Do Tigers Climb Trees?
There are four main reasons why tigers climb trees: to escape danger, to play, to pursue prey, and to survey their territory.
To Escape Danger
Tigers are apex predators that don’t fear many other animals. However, they are aware of dangers, including large animals that could trample them, such as elephants, humans, and natural disasters, including floods.
These big cats are known to climb trees to reach safety, especially when sheltering themselves from natural disasters.
As adults, tigers lead a mostly terrestrial life. However, cubs often climb trees to play and hone their hunting skills. Young tigers may also climb to find a fantastic spot to rest, although tigers don’t generally sleep in trees.
To Pursue Prey
Another reason tigers climb trees is to pursue prey. Again, this behavior is more common in cubs and young adults, although all tigers can pursue prey vertically if they feel it’s worth the effort.
And in some areas – especially in harsh climates where food is scarce – tigers may feel that any prey is worth the effort.
For instance, a Siberian tiger in the Hengdaohezi Siberian Tiger Park was spotted climbing a tree to catch a chicken.
This is why it’s never a good idea to try to escape a tiger by climbing up a tree.
To Survey Their Territory
Lastly, some tigers may climb trees to survey their territory.
This behavior is not very common in adult tigers, but younger adults that are not very heavy might decide to rest on a branch while looking out for prey or hiding until the danger passes.
Tigers are members of the big cats family, and like all cats, they can and will climb trees. Although climbing is more common in young tigers and cubs, observations at zoos and tiger sanctuaries suggest that adults also climb if they are motivated – such as pursuing prey or dealing with potential danger.
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