Behavioural factors that are likely to contribute to the coexistence of tiger Panthera tigris, leopard P. pardus and dhole Cuon alpinus, were investigated in the tropical forests of Nagarahole, southern India, during 1986–1992. Examination of predator scats and kills were combined with radiotracking of four tigers, three leopards, and visual observations of a pack of dhole. The three predators selectively killed different prey types in terms of species, size and age-sex classes, facilitating their coexistence through ecological separation. There was no temporal separation of predatory activities between tigers and leopards. Hunting activities of dholes were temporally separated from those of the two felids to some extent. Rate of movement per unit time was higher for leopards compared to tigers during day and night. In general, the activity patterns of predators appeared to be largely related to the activities of their principal prey, rather than to mutual avoidance. The three predator species used the same areas and hunted in similar habitats, although tigers attacked their prey in slightly denser cover than leopards. Both cats attacked their prey close to habitat features that attracted ungulates. There was no evidence for inter-specific spatial exclusion among predators, resulting either from habitat specificity or social dominance behaviours. Our results suggest that ecological factors, such as adequate availability of appropriate-sized prey, dense cover and high tree densities may be the primary factors in structuring the predator communities of tropical forests. Behavioural factors such as differential habitat selection or inter-specific social dominance, which are of crucial importance in savanna habitats, might play a relatively minor role in shaping the predator communities of tropical forests.