Whole lot of biomechanics involved in movement of tigers

Chennai: Just like an automobile, the tiger too has an engine, torque, turning radius and ground clearance. The feline has a success rate of 80 per cent in hunting.

Just like how so many spare parts are involved in making an automobile run, there is a whole lot of biomechanics involved in the functioning of a tiger.

In this week’s Zoo Tales series featuring Arignar Anna Zoological Park, popular called Vandalur zoo, we will see about the hunting techniques and biomechanics of the tiger.

As it is popularly known, tigers are solitary hunters. Crouching and attacking is one of the biggest strengths of the animal.

Zoo veterinarian K Sridhar said there is a huge amount of science – especially physics – involved in this method of hunting.

“The animal usually crouches almost in a 45-degree angle. This angle provides it a better platform to lunge on to its prey and gain more momentum to run faster. Once it reaches its target, the first aim of the animal is to immobilise it – and with its enormous body, this becomes possible. Once the prey is pinned down, the tiger snaps the spinal cord behind the head for smaller animals and targets the throat of the bigger animals,” he said.


Veterinarian Boon Allwin said the first attack of the animal can easily decapitate its prey.

Considering the tiger’s body weight, speed with which it attacks and the sharpness of its claws, a tiger’s attack can easily peel off the soft tissues thereby decapitating the animal. The tigers have 30 strong teeth which help in gripping the prey, breaking bones and ripping the flesh.

The tongue also plays a major role in peeling the soft skin of the prey. Tiger bones are 100 per cent flexible. When a tiger sprints, at one point, it actually stays in the air. It runs using the tip of its paw to reduce friction. It can even jump to about nine metres, giving it advantage over animals bigger than it.


The tail of a tiger is the equivalent of the rudder in a boat and plays a major role in the biomechanics of the animal. Without the tail, the animal will be only half as effective.

The tail helps the animal to change direction without losing its balance. When tigers take a sharp turn, they should maintain the momentum and the tail takes in the excess momentum and balances it out making multiple arcs to compensate the force that is exerted. Whenever the animal grows its tail extends to give it momentum.


The forequarter of the animal is very important for the tiger to latch on to a prey. When the animal runs, the ears are folded backwards to reduce drag. The running is so aerodynamically designed that it can reach top speed within a matter of seconds.

The limbs of the tiger during an attack can be compared to a nunchuck or a silambam – it will exert so much power. If one visualises the point of shoulder of the tiger except the head it will make a right triangle.

This helps in swift turning of the head, negotiating aggression and during parental caring.

At Vandalur zoo the vets are undertaking preliminary studies to understand more about the biomechanics of tigers. Video recording of the movement of the animal is made and it is later used in various studies.

“This will come in handy when we decide on the enclosure of the animal. We want to make sure that the personal space of the tiger is not violated. The video is recorded through ethogram to understand its behavioural pattern. This is in turn used to study the biomechanics in CAD,” said veterinarian Pa Kalaignan.


Tigers concentrate on the jugular puncture. The efficiency of the hunt depends on the tiger and the prey it is chasing. Tigers like their food in a rancid state; when a tiger makes a kill, it chews as much as it can and hides the remaining amount and returns back to it after a few days. Tigers are very good sprinters, swimmers but do not climb trees.


While most tigers live in the grassland, Sundarbans tigers are the only ones that live in a mangrove forest. One of their standout characters is that they hunt and eat fish. This speaks volumes about the adaptation and anomalous behaviour of the animal. They are so intelligent that they are able to calculate the refractive error created in the water before catching the fish.

Remember to take note of all these minute movements when you see a tiger in the zoo next time.

Watch out for safety protocol of the entire zoo that keeps animals safe from people and people safe from animals in our next edition on 1 September.

Balasubramani Muniyandi