Tiger Pacing(What does it mean)

This blog article details the concept of tiger pacing, its reasons, why it is problematic, and when it is not concerning. Further, it describes abnormal repetitive behaviors (ARBs) and outlines a few suggestions for zookeepers and the general public to prevent pacing behaviors in tigers. 

What Is Tiger Pacing?

Tigers and other big cats typically pace during the day in the wild if it is conducive for them to engage in mating or hunting. However, in zoos, tigers rest during the day and pace when visitors are at the zoo. Such pacing is indicative of distress, boredom, or fear and can be abnormal.   

Why Do Tigers Pace?

Tigers pace back and forth in stereotypic ways for extended periods in confinements like zoos to cope with stress. Such behaviors are not observed in the wild and cause concern as they occur in human-made environments. 

Wild cats and other animals might pace as it could relieve them because of the captivity and associated lack of freedom. They may develop psychological problems, including depression and anxiety. Such stereotypical behaviors that arise from confinement are called “zoochosis.” 

Why Is It Problematic?

Pacing behaviors indicate low animal well-being as animals engage in these behaviors when coping with psychological distress. 

One study reported that tigers in captivity engage in such behaviors for more than 20% of their time during the day. These behaviors are known to be at their highest twice a day; in the mornings between 10 and 11 AM and the evenings between 3 and 4 PM. 

Pacing behaviors could be a consequence of human interaction as they peak at specific times during the day. Tigers are usually fed around 3:30 PM, and their pacing behaviors peak around that time. Therefore, the stress and fear that cause such stereotypical behaviors could be because of humans.  

It Is Not Always Bad

It has been reported that it is not always that animals pace because of stress. It could be that they are patrolling their region as it is common for cats to monitor their territories. It may come across as abnormal as space is more confined, unlike the wild, which includes vast land areas that take several days to navigate. 

Moreover, they may pace as a result of anticipatory behaviors, wherein they sense their keeper’s presence either auditorily or visually. Typically, keeper presence indicates food or other reinforcements.

Animals may also pace because of any anticipation or fright caused near the exhibit, like a service dog or an accident. They may even start pacing because of separation from another animal with whom they connected while on display, for reasons like visiting the veterinarian.  

A group of researchers was curious to find out more about tigers’ pacing behaviors and other habits they engage in during the day. In 2007, they observed two tigers and three lions in various settings, namely, in and off the exhibit, and with and without visual barriers. They found that both the animal groups liked when there was a change in their environment, making them more active. They found more non-repetitive activity in the animals during the day, which visitors rejoiced as they could see the animals in their natural element. 

Moreover, pacing behaviors were noticed in small amounts. Still, they were slightly more in off-exhibit areas than on exhibit, which indicated that the pacing did not occur due to human presence. They also observed that the pacing behaviors decreased when visual barriers were present, possibly due to the safe distance created between them and other animals in the zoo. Without visual barriers, the animals appeared more stressed.

One way to check the reasons for pacing is to identify the place in which they are pacing and the time of the day. If it is at the front or back of the exhibit, it is possible that they are interacting with or expecting to see the keeper. If it is around the end of the day, they may be expecting to have dinner, which makes the wait agitating. 

Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors (ARBs)

Abnormal repetitive behaviors (ARB), also known as zoochosis, are common among animals kept in confinements like zoos. They are serious concerns that need to be adequately tackled. 

Pacing behaviors fall under ARBs and refers to repeated movements in a set manner, like walking or running back and forth in a fixed area without any goal. These behaviors impact the animal’s physical and emotional wellness.

Other ARBs include head-bobbing, vomiting, self-harm, rocking, excessive grooming or licking, biting the bars, or swaying. ARBs commonly stem from continual efforts to cope with a specific issue, like boredom or stress, brain damage, or distress from typical behavior patterns.  

What Can Zoo Authorities Do? 

More tigers exist in zoos and other confinements than out in the wild. Modifications and refinements need to be made by authorities to prevent ARBs from occurring and improve the overall wellbeing of captive animals. Such accommodations will profit not only the animals but the staff and the general public as they play a massive role in creating a change in the welfare of environmental preservation. 

Apart from captivity distress, other needs of the animals may not be getting fulfilled, causing them to engage in ARBs. The development of particular enrichment practices can help in the prevention of pacing behaviors, according to the welfare guidelines set by the Australian legislation. 

A study conducted by Eileen Kat Tuite in 2017 investigated eight zoos in Australia to understand the incidence of pacing behaviors in tigers and assess the enrichment practices presently being used to tackle these behaviors. The researcher found that pacing behaviors and other ARBs are common in the tigers held captive in these zoos.  

The study also reported that zookeepers use various enrichment approaches, including visual barriers, mixing up their eating schedules, introducing new objects, and even stimulating their sense of smell. 

The goal of enrichment is to invigorate the tigers, allowing them to explore their surroundings by introducing stimuli that make them curious. It also promotes safe and effective procreation. Altering the means of presenting food can also be beneficial as it can encourage foraging and hunting behaviors, which mimic natural wildlife habits. Additionally, it benefits the general public as it augments their experience of zoos.  

The Australian legislation takes on a positive outlook for promoting animal welfare by encouraging novel and innovative techniques to enhance their wellbeing while in captivity. Doing this is crucial in preventing ARBs and for the animals to lead a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, it is essential to promote such strategies even more. 

What Can You Do?

It may seem like you cannot do much to help tigers and other animals in captivity to lead more exciting and less fearful lives. However, this is untrue as there are things you can do.

You can donate to your local zoos. The more money zoos have, the more innovative enrichment strategies they can develop while conducting more participatory research to prevent pacing behaviors. 

Zoos partake in causes that seek to protect and improve environmental welfare. Therefore, go to the zoo and understand more about the causes they support so that you can make wise donations.  

Do not try to take matters into your hands and throw things at tigers in an attempt to make their lives “more interesting.”


This blog article details the concept of tiger pacing, its reasons for occurrence, why it is problematic, and when it is not concerning. Additionally, it described abnormal repetitive behaviors and outlined several suggestions for zookeepers and the general public to prevent pacing and tigers’ other stereotypical behaviors. 

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), tigers are endangered creatures, and it is essential to protect them in their natural habitat and conservatories. Being kept in confinements, they, along with other animals, face several transitory issues, and it is our responsibility to ensure their welfare.  

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Tiger Pacing

What does the tigers’ pacing indicate?

Tigers’ pacing could mean that they are stressed out. Confinements can stress tigers and other animals go through what is known as “zoochosis,” wherein captivity makes animals engage in abnormal behaviors, including pacing back and forth due to psychological distress. 

What is chuffing?

Chuffing, or Prusten is a form of communication among tigers in a manner of greeting each other. It is also used in times of the mating and when a tigress tries to comfort her cub. Sometimes, tigers chuff at their human keeper to greet them or in excitement. Chuffing in big cats is similar to the purring of domestic cats.

Are animals killed in zoos?

Yes, animals are killed in zoos sometimes for reasons including, but not restricted to, old age, disease, inadequate space, and terminal illness. It is likened to euthanizing pets due to specific conditions. 

Are zoo animals likely to die prematurely?  

Yes, zoo animals are likely to die prematurely. Elephants that live in the wild have a three-fold lifespan compared to those in zoos. One study found that elephants in timber camps have a longer lifespan than those in zoos. 

Moreover, in 2004, a guest editorial in International Zoo News mentioned that around 40% of lion cubs live until they turn one month and 30% until six months. Additionally, 30% of those elephants that live until six months of age die because of a lack of specific things in zoos, such as the opportunity to hunt for food. 

Between a lion and a tiger, which animal is stronger?

A tiger is said to be stronger than a lion due to its physical size and strength, which is greater than that of a lion. Experts typically choose a Bengal or Siberian tiger than an African lion in terms of power.

What happened to Marius, the giraffe?

Marius was a giraffe who was killed when he was only two years old. He was captivated by the Copenhagen Zoo. The authorities decided to kill him because of the disproportionate representation of his genes in the captive population, making him unfit for captive propagation (i.e., the process of preserving animals in confinements, like zoos and wildlife reserves).


Bashaw, M. J., Kelling, A. S., Bloomsmith, M. A., & Maple, T. L. (2007). Environmental Effects on the Behavior of Zoo-housed Lions and Tigers, with a Case Study of the Effects of a Visual Barrier on Pacing, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 10(2), 95-109. 

Broad, M. (2017, September 27). Why do tigers pace? PoC. Retrieved from https://pictures-of-cats.org/why-do-tigers-pace.html.  

Eileen, T. (2017). Pacing tiger, hidden welfare: abnormal repetitive behaviors of the species Panthera tigris in captivity [Paper presentation]. Asia for Animals: Changing Human Behaviour, Kathmandu, Nepal. doi:10.13140/RG.2.2.33104.9728. 

Kaczan, A. (2016, March 27). On the prowl: tigers in distress. Sandpaw. https://sandpaw.weblogs.anu.edu.au/2016/05/27/on-the-prowl-tigers-in-distress/.