Why are there no wild tigers in the UK?

Tigers are a top attraction at many zoos and conservation parks across the UK, drawing visitors in with their powerful physiques and beautiful stripes. But while they are a delight to see in captivity, have you ever wondered why there are no wild tigers in the UK? Well, the truth is there used to be a similar big cat that roamed the British Isles.


Cave Lions

A species called the cave lion was present in the UK some 12-14,000 years ago. Up to 25% bigger than the lions you’d see at the zoo or on safari, they had faint stripes and lived in prides, hunting large animals such as deer, elk and bison. However, as the ice retreated from the northern hemisphere and humans began farming land, the cave lion died out. Since then, only the lynx has roamed our lands, and according to Born Free, these cats were wiped out from wild habitats some 1,300 years ago.


Population density and habitat

Tigers as we know them today certainly wouldn’t thrive in the UK. With a population density of at least 280 people per square kilometre and over 67 million inhabitants, there wouldn’t be much space here for tigers to create the territories they require. Female tigers need a territory of at least 20 square kilometers, while males need as much as 100 square kilometres. There simply isn’t the space on our little island for people and big cats to coexist peacefully.


Tigers in Europe

There may not be the right conditions here in the UK for tigers, but these beautiful cats once roamed around Europe - as recently as the Middle Ages. The Caspian tiger lived in parts of Eastern Turkey, Ukraine and Russia, and was officially declared extinct in the 1970s. The largest of all tiger subspecies, it had golden yellow fur with brown stripes and inhabited riverine lands that offered cover from forests and reeds.

Research in the early 2000s suggested that the DNA of the Caspian tiger is very similar to that of the Siberian tiger. Indeed, some scientists believe the two types are in fact one and the same. With that in mind, efforts have been underway to reintroduce Siberian tigers back into their former habitats. A feasibility study was carried out in 2010, which laid out the requirements for a successful reintroduction, and it was estimated that, as a first step, tigers could be brought back to Kazakhstan between 2022 and 2025.

If you love tigers and you’re looking for a children’s play that features these wonderful cats, don’t miss The Tiger Who Came to Tea. One of the best theatre shows for families, it brings Judith Kerr’s popular children’s book to life with songs, dancing and clumsy chaos. Aimed at kids aged three and up, it runs for 55 minutes with no interval, making it ideal for shorter attention spans. The production is touring the UK until October, and it’s also one of the children’s shows playing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket from July to September 2024. Book your tickets today!