Can Tigers Climb Trees?

Written by Brandi Allred
Updated: January 23, 2023
© iStock.com/Ondrej Prosicky
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Tigers are some of the fiercest, best well-known cats in the world. But can tigers climb trees? Here, we’ll discover the answer to that question, and many more. With some subspecies growing even larger than lions, it’s no wonder so many people want to know about the tree climbing habits of these striped big cats. 

Unlike cheetahs, which exist primarily in open savannah, tigers around the world live in densely forested areas. They’re much larger than leopards, mountain lions, bobcats, or servals, but they’re not quite as big as polar bears or grizzly bears. However, no matter their size, or where they live, all tigers share many of the same behaviors.

Let’s learn a little more about these magnificent apex predators, and answer the question: can tigers climb trees?

Species Profile: Tigers

Deadliest Cats - Tiger
Tigers are always the apex predators in their ecosystems and definitely one of the deadliest cats.

©dangdumrong/Shutterstock.com

Tigers are among the biggest of big cats. They’re famously orange, with pale bellies and black, vertical stripes marking their entire bodies. Unlike lions, they live solitary lives, with males and females coming together only to mate. Like house cats, tigers have large, rounded ears, long whiskers, and teeth designed for shredding meat. Tigers can make a wide variety of sounds, including roaring, but they can’t purr.

Let’s learn a little more about these incredible animals.

Where Do Tigers Live?

Today, tigers occupy less than 5% of their former range. The past several hundred years of increasing human population and expanding human activity have reduced the population of wild tigers to less than 5,000. Once, tigers lived from Turkey to the Russian Far East, and as far south as the Sunda Islands in Indonesia. Today, with their habitats extremely fragmented, they only live in isolated ranges within their former territories.

Tigers are forest cats. Some, like Bengal tigers in India, Nepal, and Bhutan, actually specialize in mangrove swamps or mountainous zones. But for most tigers, dense forests are home. Tigers don’t mind the water, and they hunt best when they have lots of cover, which facilitates their ambush style of hunting.

How Many Kinds of Tiger Are There?

Young Siberian tiger running through a forest stream.
Young Siberian tiger, Panthera tigris altaica, walking in a forest stream in a dark green spruce forest. Tigers are very good swimmers and have been known to drown their prey.

©Martin Mecnarowski/Shutterstock.com

Officially, there are only two subspecies of tiger: the continental tiger (such as Amur or Siberian, Malayan, Bengal, and Indochinese tigers), and the Sunda island tiger. Formerly, scientists actually grouped tigers into nine distinct subspecies, three of which are extinct today. But can tigers climb trees? All local types of tigers — like Siberian tigers, Sumatran tigers, and Malayan tigers — have the same teeth and claws. So, if one can climb trees, they probably all can. 

But why would a tiger climb a tree? It may be a useful hunting or feeding tactic — let’s learn a little more about what tigers eat before finding out whether or not they climb trees.

What Do Tigers Eat?

Tigers are both apex predators and keystone species; they sit at the top of the food web in whatever environment they inhabit. This means that an adult tiger basically has its pick of food sources. Adults have no natural predators, other than humans. Young tigers feed on smaller prey, like fish, monkeys, and wild pigs. Adult tigers can kill adult deer, chital, water buffalo, and any other medium to large mammal that happens across their path.

Are Tigers Able to Climb Trees?

So, can tigers climb trees? We all know that certain cats, like the African leopard, spend a large portion of their time safe in the trees, but what about tigers?

Well, the answer is a resounding yes! Tigers can and do climb trees frequently, especially when young. Trees offer a safe place to eat, sleep, and even hide out from threats, like big male tigers, or even humans. They also offer a potential point of ambush — can you imagine a tiger leaping at you from out of a tree? 

Tiger Climbing tree trunk.
While they do not do it very often, tigers can definitely climb trees!

©iStock.com/domonite

While they don’t use trees as frequently as leopards do, tigers are more than capable of climbing. So, if a tiger’s chasing you, don’t climb a tree for safety; it won’t work.

Are Tigers Endangered?

Today, there are fewer than 5,000 tigers left in the wild. Recently, populations in the Indian subcontinent have stabilized, and even begun to increase slowly. But, elsewhere, tiger populations continue to decrease. This is particularly true for the Critically Endangered Siberian and Sumatran tigers, both of which have fewer than 600 surviving members. 

Unfortunately for tigers, they’ve been hunted mercilessly for centuries. On top of this, they’ve lost over 90% of their habitat to human activity. Tigers rely on large territories with plenty of game. Without these things, and with the added threat of poaching, their survival is anything but sure.  

What You Can Do to Help Tigers

Tiger conservation relies on preserving tiger habitat and prey in suitable locations. Today, zoos like the San Diego Zoo are active in tiger conservation. One of the easiest ways to protect tigers is to avoid purchasing anything said to come from a tiger. That might be fur, teeth, bones, or ingredients in Traditional Chinese Medicine. You can further support tigers by supporting the fight against private ownership and irresponsible breeding of these incredible wild animals.

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The Featured Image

Apex predator: Tiger
Tigers use their stalking skills, speed, and quick movements to take down their prey. However, these big cats usually eat just once per week. They are capable of eating 75 pounds of meat in one evening.
© iStock.com/Ondrej Prosicky

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About the Author

Brandi is a professional writer by day and a fiction writer by night. Her nonfiction work focuses on animals, nature, and conservation. She holds degrees in English and Anthropology, and spends her free time writing horror, scifi, and fantasy stories.

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Sources
  1. Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/tiger
  2. World Wildlife Fund, Inc., Available here: https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/tiger
  3. Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, Available here: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/tiger
  4. San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, Available here: https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/tiger
  5. PLOS ONE Journal, Available here: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0207114