A recent paper highlights the differences in shape between captive and wild big cat skulls. The nature of shape change found indicates that it is the mechanical influences of diet that have affected skull and mandible development.
Lion and tiger specimens at National Museums Scotland, which includes an extensive collection of skulls and mandibles from zoos, were vital for analysing patterns of variation between captive and wild big cats, and why these differences have occurred.
Most captive big cats used in the study are from European institutions and span the last 150 years. These cats will have been fed partial or whole carcasses, which better replicate the mechanical properties of wild diets than softer prepared diets. The authors including Dr David Cooper and Dr Andrew Kitchener speculate that additional mechanical stresses upon the skull and mandible such as the killing bite, manipulation such as dragging, and consumption of large prey in the wild have driven the shape differentiation between the skulls of captive and wild big cats.
It is important to understand these differences to better care for captive animals, enhance their survival in reintroduction, and to understand the importance of environmental factors in influencing an animal’s size or shape.
The original article is available here: https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/13/23/3616#