Tiger

The tiger is the largest cat species, reaching a total body length of up to 3.3 m and weighing up to 306 kg.

Its most recognizable feature is a pattern of dark vertical stripes on reddish-orange fur with a lighter underside. It has exceptionally stout teeth, and the canines are the longest among living felids with a crown height of as much as 74.5 mm or even 90 mm.

In zoos, tigers have lived for 20 to 26 years, which also seems to be their longevity in the wild. They are territorial and generally solitary but social animals, often requiring large contiguous areas of habitat that support their prey requirements.

This, coupled with the fact that they are indigenous to some of the more densely populated places on Earth, has caused significant conflicts with humans.

Sumatran_Tiger_3

Subspecies

There are 9 subspecies of tiger, three of which are extinct.

Their historical range in Bangladesh, Siberia, Iran, Afghanistan, India, China, and Southeast Asia, including three Indonesian islands is severely diminished today.

The surviving subspecies, in descending order of wild population, are:

1. The Bengal tiger, also called the Indian tiger, lives in India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh, and is the most common subspecies, with populations estimated at less than 2,500 adult individuals.

bengal tiger

In 2011, the total population of adult tigers was estimated at 1,520–1,909 in India, 440 in Bangladesh, 155 in Nepal and 75 in Bhutan.

It lives in alluvial grasslands, subtropical and tropical rainforests, scrub forests, wet and dry deciduous forests, and mangroves.

Male Bengal tigers have a total length, including the tail, of 270 to 310 cm, while females range from 240 to 265 cm. The weight of males range from 180 to 260 kg , while that of the females range from 100 to 160 kg.

In 1972, Project Tiger was founded in India aiming at ensuring a viable population of tigers in the country and preserving areas of biological importance as a natural heritage for the people.

But the illicit demand for bones and body parts from wild tigers for use in traditional Chinese medicine is the reason for the unrelenting poaching pressure on tigers on the Indian subcontinent.

Between 1994 and 2009, the Wildlife Protection Society of India has documented 893 cases of tigers killed in India, which is just a fraction of the actual poaching and illegal trade in tiger parts during those years.

An area of special conservation interest lies in the Terai Arc Landscape in theHimalayan foothills of northern India and southern Nepal, where 11 protected areas comprising dry forest foothills and tall grass savannas harbor tigers in a landscape of 49,000 square kilometres.

The goals are to manage tigers as a single metapopulation, the dispersal of which between core refuges can help maintain genetic, demographic, and ecological integrity, and to ensure that species and habitat conservation becomes mainstreamed into the rural development agenda.

In Nepal, a community-based tourism model has been developed with a strong emphasis on sharing benefits with local people and on the regeneration of degraded forests.

The approach has been successful in reducing poaching, restoring habitats, and creating a local constituency for conservation.

 

2. The Indochinese tiger, also called Corbett’s tiger, is found in Cambodia, China, Laos, Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Indochinese tiger

These tigers are smaller and darker than Bengal tigers. Males weigh from 150–195 kg, while females are smaller at 100–130 kg.

Their preferred habitat is forests in mountainous or hilly regions. According to government estimates of national tiger populations, the subspecies numbers around a total of 350 individuals.

All existing populations are at extreme risk from poaching, prey depletion as a result of poaching of primary prey species such as deer and wild pigs, habitat fragmentation, and inbreeding. In Vietnam, almost three-quarters of the tigers killed provide stock for Chinese pharmacies.

 

3. The Malayan tiger, exclusively found in the southern part of the Malay Peninsula, was not considered a subspecies in its own right until 2004.

Malayan tiger

According to official government figures, the population in the wild may number around 500 individuals, but is under considerable poaching pressure.

The Malayan tiger is the smallest of the mainland tiger subspecies, and the second-smallest living subspecies, with males averaging about 120 kg and females about 100 kg in weight.

The Malayan tiger is a national icon in Malaysia, appearing on its coat of arms and in logos of Malaysian institutions, such as Maybank.

 

4. The Sumatran tiger is found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and is critically endangered.

Sumatran tiger

It is the smallest of all living tiger subspecies, with adult males weighing between 100 and 140 kg  and females 75 and 110 kg.

Their small size is an adaptation to the thick, dense forests of the island of Sumatra where they reside, as well as the smaller-sized prey.

The wild population is estimated at between 400 and 500, seen chiefly in the island’s national parks.

Recent genetic testing has revealed the presence of unique genetic markers, indicating it may develop into a separate species, if it does not go extinct.

This has led to suggestions that Sumatran tigers should have greater priority for conservation than any other subspecies. While habitat destruction is the main threat to existing tiger population (logging continues even in the supposedly protected national parks), 66 tigers were recorded as being shot and killed between 1998 and 2000, or nearly 20% of the total population.

 

5. The Siberian tiger, also known as the Amur tiger, inhabits the Amur-Ussuri region of Primorsky Krai and Khabarovsk Krai in far eastern Siberia.

Siberian tiger

It ranks among the largest felids ever to have existed, with a head and body length of 160–180 cm for females and 190–230 cm for males, plus a tail of about 60–110 cm, with adult males weighing between 180 and 306 kg and females 100 and 167 kg.

The average weight of an adult male is around 227 kg. Siberian tigers have thick coats, a paler golden hue, and fewer stripes.

The heaviest wild Siberian tiger weighed 384 kg. In 2005, there were 331–393 adult and sub-adult Siberian tigers in the region, with a breeding adult population of about 250 individuals.

 

6. The South China tiger, also known as the Amoy or Xiamen tiger, is the most critically endangered subspecies of tiger, and is listed as one of the 10 most endangered animals in the world.

South China tiger

One of the smaller tiger subspecies, the length of the South China tiger ranges from 2.2–2.6 m  for both males and females. Males weigh between 127 and 177 kg while females weigh between 100 and 118 kg.

From 1983 to 2007, no South China tigers were sighted.  In 2007, a farmer spotted a tiger and handed in photographs to the authorities as proof.

 The photographs in question, however, were later exposed as fake, copied from a Chinese calendar and digitally altered, and the “sighting” turned into a massive scandal. 

In 1977, the Chinese government passed a law banning the killing of wild tigers, but this may have been too late to save the subspecies, since it is possibly already extinct in the wild.

Currently, 59 captive South China tigers are known, all within China, but these are known to be descended from only six animals.

Thus, the genetic diversity required to maintain the subspecies may no longer exist. 

Currently, efforts are being made to breed and reintroduce these tigers to the wild. 

 

7. (Extinct) The Bali tiger was limited to the Indonesian island of Bali.

Bali tiger

It was the smallest subspecies, with a weight of 90–100 kg in males and 65–80 kg in females.

Bali tigers were hunted to extinction—the last Bali tiger, an adult female, is thought to have been killed at Sumbar Kima, West Bali, on 27 September 1937.

There is no Bali tiger in captivity. The tiger still plays an important role in Balinese Hinduism.

 

8. (Extinct) The Caspian tiger, also known as the Hyrcanian tiger or Turan tiger.

Caspian tiger

It was found in the sparse forest habitats and riverine corridors west and south of the Caspian Sea and west through Central Asia into the Takla-Makan desert of Xinjiang, and had been recorded in the wild until the early 1970s.

The Amur tiger is the genetically closest living relative of the Caspian tiger.

 

9. (Extinct) The Javan tiger  was limited to the island of Java, and had been recorded until the mid-1970s.

Javan tiger

 Javan tigers were larger than Bali tigers; males weighed 100–140 kg and females 75–115 kg.  After 1979, no more sightings were confirmed in the region of Mount Betiri. 

An expedition to Mount Halimun Salak National Park in 1990 did not yield any definite, direct evidence for the continued existence of tigers.

 

Recap of the sub-species of tigers:

  Bengal Tiger 

 

 Indochinese Tiger

 

 Malayan Tiger

 

 Sumatran Tiger

 

 Siberian Tiger

 

 Siberian Tiger

 

 South China Tiger

Extinct subspecies

 A hunted-down Bali Tiger

 

 A Javan Tiger

 A captive Caspian Tiger

 

Hybrids

Hybridisation among the big cats, including the tiger, was first conceptualised in the 19th century, when zoos were particularly interested in the pursuit of finding oddities to display for financial gain.

Lions have been known to breed with tigers (most often the Amur and Bengal subspecies) to create hybrids called ligers andtigons. 

Such hybrids were once commonly bred in zoos, but this is now discouraged due to the emphasis on conserving species and subspecies. Hybrids are still bred in private menageries and in zoos in China.

The liger is a cross between a male lion and a tigress. Because the lion sire passes on a growth-promoting gene, but the corresponding growth-inhibiting gene from the female tiger is absent, ligers grow far larger than either parent.

They share physical and behavioural qualities of both parent species (spots and stripes on a sandy background).

Male ligers are sterile, but female ligers are often fertile. Males have about a 50% chance of having a mane, but, even if they do, their manes will be only around half the size of that of a pure lion.

Ligers are typically between 10 and 12 feet in length, and can weigh between 800 and 1,000 pounds or more. 

The less common tigon is a cross between the lioness and the male tiger. 

Colour variations

 A Bengal White Tiger 

 A pair of White Tigers at the Singapore Zoo

A well-known allele produces the white tiger, an animal which is rare in the wild but widely bred in zoos due to its popularity. Breeding of white tigers will often lead to inbreeding (as the trait is recessive).

Many initiatives have taken place in white and orange tiger mating in an attempt to remedy the issue, often mixing subspecies in the process.

Such inbreeding has led to white tigers having a greater likelihood of being born with physical defects, such as cleft palates andscoliosis (curvature of the spine). 

Furthermore, white tigers are prone to having crossed eyes (strabismus). Even apparently healthy white tigers generally do not live as long as their orange counterparts.

Records of white tigers were first made in the early 19th century. They can only occur when both parents carry the rare gene found in white tigers; this gene has been calculated to occur in only one in every 10,000 births.

The white tiger is not a separate sub-species, but only a colour variation; since the only white tigers to have been observed in the wild have been Bengal tigers (and all white tigers in captivity are at least part Bengal), the recessive gene that causes the white colouring is commonly thought to be carried only by Bengal tigers, although the reasons for this are not known. 

They are not in any way more endangered than tigers are generally, this being a common misconception. Another misconception is white tigers are albinos, despite pigment being evident in the white tiger’s stripes.

They are distinct not only because of their white hue, but they also have blue eyes.

Golden tigers

A rare golden Tiger 

In addition, another recessive gene may create a very unusual “golden” or “golden tabby” colour variation, sometimes known as “strawberry”.

Golden tigers have light-gold fur, pale legs, and faint orange stripes. Their fur tends to be much thicker than normal. 

Extremely few golden tigers are kept in captivity, around 30 in all.

Like white tigers, golden tigers are invariably at least part Bengal.

Some golden tigers carry the white tiger gene, and when two such tigers are mated, they can produce some stripeless white offspring. Both white and golden tigers tend to be larger than average Bengal tigers.

Other colour variations

No black tiger has been authenticated, with the possible exception of one dead specimen examined in Chittagong in 1846. There are unconfirmed reports of a “blue” or slate-coloured tiger, the Maltese tiger. Largely or totally black tigers are assumed, if real, to be intermittent mutations rather than distinct species. 

Distribution and habitat

In the past, tigers were found throughout Asia, from the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea to Siberia and the Indonesian islands of Java, Bali and Sumatra.

During the 20th century, tigers have been extirpated in western Asia and became restricted to isolated pockets in the remaining parts of their range.

Today, their fragmented and partly degraded range extends from India in the west to China and Southeast Asia. The northern limit of their range is close to the Amur River in southeasternSiberia. The only large island inhabited by tigers today is Sumatra. 

Tigers were extirpated on the island of Bali in the 1940s, around the Caspian Sea in the 1970s, and on Java in the 1980s.

Loss of habitat and the persistent killing of tigers and tiger prey precipitated these extirpations, a process that continues to leave forests devoid of tigers and other large mammals across South and Southeast Asia.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, their historical range has shrunk by 93%. In the decade from 1997 to 2007, the estimated area known to be occupied by tigers has declined by 41%. 

Fossil remains indicate tigers were present in Borneo and Palawan in the Philippines during the late Pleistocene and Holocene. 

Tigers can occupy a wide range of habitat types, but will usually require sufficient cover, proximity to water, and an abundance of prey.

Bengal tigers live in many types of forests, including wet, evergreen, and the semievergreen of Assam and eastern Bengal; the swampy mangrove forest of the Ganges Delta; the deciduous forest of Nepal, and the thorn forests of the Western Ghats.

In various parts of their range they inhabit or have inhabited additionally partially open grassland and savanna as well as taiga forests and rocky habitats.

A further habitat requirement is the placement of suitably secluded den locations, which may consist of caves, large hollow trees, or dense vegetation. 

Conservation efforts

The tiger is an endangered species.  Poaching for fur and body parts and destruction of habitat have simultaneously greatly reduced tiger populations in the wild.

At the start of the 20th century, it is estimated there were over 100,000 tigers in the wild but the population has dwindled outside of captivity to between 1,500 and 3,500. 

Demand for tiger parts for the purposes of Traditional Chinese Medicine has also been cited as a major threat to tiger populations.  Some estimates suggest that there are less than 2,500 mature breeding individuals, with no subpopulation containing more than 250 mature breeding individuals.

India

India is home to the world’s largest population of tigers in the wild. According to the World Wildlife Fund, of the 3,500 tigers around the world, 1,400 are found in India.

Only 11% of original Indian tiger habitat remains, and it is becoming significantly fragmented and often degraded.

A major concerted conservation effort, known as Project Tiger, has been underway since 1973, initially spearheaded by Indira Gandhi.

The fundamental accomplishment has been the establishment of over 25 well-monitored tiger reserves in reclaimed land where human development is categorically forbidden.

The program has been credited with tripling the number of wild Bengal tigers from roughly 1,200 in 1973 to over 3,500 in the 1990s.

However, a tiger census carried out in 2007, whose report was published on February 12, 2008, stated that the wild tiger population in India declined by 60% to approximately 1,411. 

It is noted in the report that the decrease of tiger population can be attributed directly to poaching. 

PhotoAn Indian tiger at Guwahati Zoo in Assam, India.

Following the release of the report, the Indian government pledged $153 million to further fund the Project Tiger initiative, set up a Tiger Protection Force to combat poachers, and fund the relocation of up to 200,000 villagers to minimise human-tiger interaction.

Additionally, eight new tiger reserves in India were set up. Indian officials successfully started a project to reintroduce the tigers into the Sariska Tiger Reserve. 

The Ranthambore National Park is often cited as a major success by Indian officials against poaching. 

Tigers Forever is a collaboration between the Wildlife Conservation Society and Panthera Corporation to serve as both a science-based action plan and a business model to ensure that tigers live in the wild forever.

Initial field sites of Tigers Forever include the world’s largest tiger reserve, the 21,756 km2 (8,400 sq mi) Hukaung Valley in Myanmar, the Western Ghats in India, Thailand’s Huai Khai Khaeng-Thung Yai protected areas, and other sites in Laos PDR, Cambodia, the Russian Far East and China covering approximately 260,000 km2 (100,000 sq mi) of critical tiger habitat. 

Russia

The Siberian tiger was on the brink of extinction with only about 40 animals in the wild in the 1940s.

Under the Soviet Union, anti-poaching controls were strict and a network of protected zones (zapovedniks) were instituted, leading to a rise in the population to several hundred.

Poaching again became a problem in the 1990s, when the economy of Russia collapsed, local hunters had access to a formerly sealed off lucrative Chinese market, and logging in the region increased.

While an improvement in the local economy has led to greater resources being invested in conservation efforts, an increase of economic activity has led to an increased rate of development and deforestation.

The major obstacle in preserving the species is the enormous territory individual tigers require (up to 450 km2 needed by a single female and more for a single male). 

Current conservation efforts are led by local governments and NGO’s in consort with international organisations, such as theWorld Wide Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society. 

The competitive exclusion of wolves by tigers has been used by Russian conservationists to convince hunters in the Far East to tolerate the big cats, as they limit ungulate populations less than wolves, and are effective in controlling the latter’s numbers.

Currently, there are about 400–550 animals in the wild.

China

During the early 1970s, such as in the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, China rejected the Western-led environmentalist movement as an impeachment on the full use of its own resources.

However, this stance softened during the 1980s, as China emerged from diplomatic isolation and desired normal trade relations with Western countries.

China became a party to the CITES treaty in 1981, bolstering efforts at tiger conservation by transnational groups like Project Tiger, which were supported by the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank.

In 1988, China passed the Law on the Protection of Wildlife, listing the tiger as a Category I protected species. In 1993, China banned the trade on tiger parts, which led to a drop in the number of tiger bones harvested for use in traditional Chinese medicine. 

 

Tigers in traditional East Asian medicine

Tiger bones and nearly all body parts are used in traditional Chinese medicine for a range of purported uses, including pain killers.

Tiger parts are used in traditional East Asian medicines, particularly in traditional Chinese medicine, where many people believe that tiger parts have multiple medicinal properties.

When combined with the high prices that furs fetch on the black market and destruction of habitat, poaching for medicinal uses has greatly reduced tiger populations in the wild.

A century ago, it is estimated there were over 100,000 tigers in the world; now, global numbers may be below 2,500 mature breeding individuals, with no subpopulation containing more than 250 mature breeding individuals.

There is no scientific corroboration to these beliefs, which include:

  • The tail of the tiger is sometimes ground and mixed with soap to create an ointment for use in treating skin cancer.
  • The bones found in the tip of the tiger’s tail are said to ward off evil spirits.
  • Crushed tiger bones added to wine serve as a Taiwanese general tonic.
  • The feet of a tiger, when dipped in palm oil and hung in front of a door, are said to diminish the likelihood of evil spirits from entering.
  • Tiger’s skin is said to cure a fever caused by ghosts. To use it effectively, the user must sit on the tiger’s skin, but beware. If too much time is spent on the tiger’s skin, legend says the user will become a tiger.
  • Adding honey to the gallstones and applying the combination to the hands and feet is said to effectively treat abscesses.
  • Burnt tiger hair can allegedly drive away centipedes.
  • Mixing the brain of a tiger with oil and rubbing the mixture on your body is an alleged cure for both laziness and acne.
  • Rolling the eyeballs into pills is an alleged remedy for convulsions.
  • The whiskers are used to cure toothaches.
  • One will allegedly possess courage and shall be protected from sudden fright by wearing a tiger’s claw as a piece of jewellery or carrying one in a pocket.
  • Strength, cunning, and courage can allegedly be obtained by consuming a tiger’s heart.
  • Floating ribs of a tiger are considered a good luck talisman.
  • The tiger’s penis is said to be an aphrodisiac.
  • Small bones in a tiger’s feet tied to a child’s wrists are said to be a sure cure for convulsions.

Population estimate

The global wild tiger population is estimated at anywhere between 3,062 and 3,948 individuals.

The World Wide Fund for Nature estimates the tiger population at 3,200. 

The exact number of wild tigers is unknown, as many estimates are outdated or come from educated guesses. Few estimates are considered reliable, coming from comprehensive scientific censuses.

The table shows estimates per country according to IUCN and range country governments:

Country Estimate
Bangladesh Bangladesh 440
Bhutan Bhutan 75
Cambodia Cambodia 20
China China 45
India India 1,706
Indonesia Indonesia 325
Laos Laos 17
Malaysia Malaysia 500
Myanmar Myanmar 85
Nepal Nepal 155
North Korea North Korea n/a
Russia Russia 360
Thailand Thailand 200
Vietnam Vietnam 20
Total 3,948

 

Save the Tigers, YOU can make a difference!

Join us as ONE VOICE to:

Reduce demand for illegal wildlife parts and products by encouraging others to ask questions and get the facts before buying any wildlife or plant product.

Push governments to protect threatened animal populations by increasing law enforcement, imposing strict deterrents, reducing demand for endangered species products.

Speak up on behalf of those on the frontlines being threatened by armed poachers so they are properly equipped, trained and compensated.