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Tigers in captivity need to have access to a range of different substrates within the enclosure in order to provide as natural an environment as possible and to facilitate more natural behaviours. The type of substrate should be varied across all living spaces [1].

Tiger in cage, Thailand
Tiger lying on concrete flooring, Thailand | For Tigers, 2019

Concrete floors are commonly found in many tiger facilities around the world where it is usually found in at least night rooms or lockdown areas. This is because these smaller spaces are easier to keep clean through a quick hose down if the flooring is concrete. However, these floors are hard and often abrasive. Nowadays, better facilities are exchanging concrete floors for other flooring materials such as epoxy coatings in place of concrete providing a softer flooring yet still remaining easy to clean [1]. Some indoor areas are covered with sand or even wood chips, which is easy to clean away and replace when needed. Sadly, many facilities around the world still keep tigers exclusively on concrete, for both night rooms and enclosures, which can cause severe health issues. This includes foot pad trauma from the abrasive flooring as well as trauma to joints when lying down causing them pain and discomfort.

Getting dirty

Concrete floors used to be the norm in many countries for outside enclosure areas. However, nowadays, more zoos are taking a more natural approach to the environment they provide for their animals by providing different types of substrates outside. The amount, shape and texture of the substrate should be varied across the enclosure giving the tiger different options on where they choose to lie or spend their time.

Muddy tigers, Thailand
Muddy tigers in the rain, Thailand | For Tigers, 2012

A range of natural substrates can and should be used [1], and can include bare earth, which tigers will actually scratch and roll in. It also doesn’t matter if the earth gets wet, tigers enjoy a good roll in the mud too. Other textural substrates include sand which is great for sunbathing and also hay or straw which tigers also enjoy rolling in and playing with. These latter substrates can be used within enrichment toys or have various scents added to them for additional fun.

Tiger hiding in the grass, Thailand
Tiger in the grass, Thailand | For Tigers, 2012

Grass is another important substrate to provide as it provides a softer ground underfoot. It provides cover for hiding if left to grow long enough and additionally, is important to have as tigers will sometimes eat grass to aid their digestion.


1. AZA Tiger Species Survival Plan® (2016). Tiger Care Manual. Silver Spring, MD: Association of Zoos and Aquariums

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