In the wild, tigers mostly feed on large and medium-sized animals, preferring native ungulates weighing at least 90 kg (200 lb). They typically have little or no deleterious effect on their prey populations. Sambar deer, chital, barasingha, wild boar, gaur, nilgai and both water buffalo and domestic buffalo, in descending order of preference, are the tiger’s favoured prey in Tamil Nadu, India, while gaur and sambar are the preferred prey and constitute the main diet of tigers in other parts of India. They also prey on other predators, including dogs, leopards, pythons, sloth bears, and crocodiles. In Siberia, the main prey species are Manchurian wapiti and wild boar (the two species comprising nearly 80% of the prey selected) followed by sika deer, moose, roe deer, and musk deer. Asiatic black bears and Ussuri brown bears may also fall prey to tigers, and they constitute up to 40.7% of the diet of Siberian tigers depending on local conditions and the bear populations. In Sumatra, prey include sambar deer, muntjac, wild boar, Malayan tapir and orangutan. In the former Caspian tiger’s range, prey included saiga antelope, camels, Caucasian wisent, yak, and wild horses. Like many predators, tigers are opportunistic and may eat much smaller prey, such as monkeys, peafowl and other ground-based birds, hares, porcupines, and fish.
Tigers are thought to be mainly nocturnal predators, but in areas where humans are typically absent, they have been observed via remote-controlled, hidden cameras, hunting in daylight. They generally hunt alone and ambush their prey as most other cats do, overpowering them from any angle, using their body size and strength to knock the prey off balance. Successful hunts usually require the tiger to almost simultaneously leap onto its quarry, knock it over, and grab the throat or nape with its teeth. Despite their large size, tigers can reach speeds of about 49–65 km/h (30–40 mph) but only in short bursts; consequently, tigers must be close to their prey before they break cover. If the prey catches wind of the tiger’s presence before this, the tiger usually abandons the hunt rather than chase prey or battle it head-on. Horizontal leaps of up to 10 m (33 ft) have been reported, although leaps of around half this distance are more typical. One in 2 to 20 hunts, including stalking near potential prey, ends in a successful kill.
When hunting larger animals, tigers prefer to bite the throat and use their powerful forelimbs to hold onto the prey, often simultaneously wrestling it to the ground. The tiger remains latched onto the neck until its target dies of strangulation. By this method, gaurs and water buffaloes weighing over a ton have been killed by tigers weighing about a sixth as much. Although they can kill healthy adults, tigers often select the calves or infirm of very large species. Healthy adult prey of this type can be dangerous to tackle, as long, strong horns, legs and tusks are all potentially fatal to the tiger. No other extant land predator routinely takes on prey this large on their own. Whilst hunting sambars, which comprise up to 60% of their prey in India, tigers have reportedly made a passable impersonation of the male sambar’s rutting call to attract them. With smaller prey, such as monkeys and hares, the tiger bites the nape, often breaking the spinal cord, piercing the windpipe, or severing the jugular vein or common carotid artery. Though rarely observed, some tigers have been recorded to kill prey by swiping with their paws, which are powerful enough to smash the skulls of domestic cattle, and break the backs of sloth bears.