Tigers may be from the cat family, but they’re one of the few cats (both big and small) that actually like the water – other water-loving felids include the jaguar, fishing cat and the Turkish Van. In the wild, tigers can often be found near water sources such as pools or streams, often sitting in them as well as drinking from them, as shown in this footage from Thailand. So how do they use bodies of water and why is it so important to include a pond in a captive tiger environment?
What do tigers use the pond for?
Aside from the obvious use of drinking, tigers use bodies of water for a number of different things:
Cooling off – This is an important reason. The majority of tiger subspecies are found in hot climates where temperatures can rise in excess of 40 degrees Celsius. As cats, tigers are able to lose heat though their pads , and through panting [1,2]. However, nothing helps to reduce heat better than by submerging in water. Tigers have been known to stay in the water for lengthy periods of time. However, they will only ever submerge themselves up to the neck – tigers do not like getting water into their ears and eyes. In fact, in order to avoid this, it is very common to see a tiger backing into water gently in order to avoid this from happening.
Once they’ve been submerged long enough, they will exit the water and lounge about on dry land allowing their wet body (plus any wind) to help continue the cooling process. When they’ve dried off, and if they’re still too hot, they will simply climb back in.
Exercise – Tigers are excellent swimmers. They have powerful front legs and webbing between their toes which helps them swim. In fact, tigers have been recorded as swimming across rivers as wide as 18 miles across . Cubs and younger tigers will often spend time playing in the water, whereas adults will stay rather more sedentary.
Toilet – Tigers will also use the pond as a toilet. Similar to many other wild cats, tigers will often urinate in a stream in order to hide their presence. This does mean that smaller ponds or pools will require more regular cleaning. With this in mind, it is also important for tigers to have access to a separate water source for drinking, and elevating this can help to prevent them urinating in it.
Why a pond is important for captive tiger welfare
Being able to access a pond, or a small body of water in their captive environment, means that tigers are able to perform a wider range of natural behaviours, or simply be more comfortable in their environment as they are able to cool off. Research also shows that the addition of a pond can actually reduce stereotypical behaviours such as route tracing or repetitive pacing .
The size of the pond can also confers different welfare advantages. Smaller, shallower ponds only allow tigers to cool down, whereas bigger, deeper ponds provide swimming opportunities.
Swimming is particularly important for captive tigers as they do not get as much exercise as wild tigers. As they are given their food without the need to hunt, captive tigers often become lazy, overweight and lose muscle tone. By providing a deeper body of water for the tiger to utilise, it enables the tiger to work out their entire body, thus providing better physical health. However, as we mentioned, tigers do not like getting their ears and eyes wet, so it’s always important to have a shallower area for the tiger to simply relax and cool off.
1. Yang, T., Fingean, E. and Brown, R.D. (2013). Effects of summer microclimates on behaviour of lions and tigers in zoos. International Journal of Biometerology 57, pp. 381-390.
2. Stryker, A.J., Atkinson, J.L., Brown, R.D., Barney, D., Robinson, J.A.B., Duncan, J. and Finegan, E.J. (2019). Behavioral Repertoire assessment of Bengal tigers (Panthera tigris) with focus on thermoregulatory behavior. International Journal of Biometeorology 63, pp. 1369-1379.
3. Seidensticker, J., Jackson, P., and Christie, S. (1999). Riding the Tiger. Cambridge University Press.
4. Biolatti, C., Modesto, P., Dezutto, D., Pera, F., Tarantola, M., Gennero, M.S., Maurella, C. and Acutis, P.L. (2015). Behavioural analysis of captive tigers (Panthera tigris): A water pool makes the difference. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 174, pp. 173-180.