Special thanks to Compton's Encyclopedia for this information.
The scientific name of the tiger is Panthera tigris. Tigers differ from one another only in size and in the character and markings of the coat. In all of them the basic color of the coat ranges from a light tinge of yellow on the belly to a deep yellow or orange on the back. The head, body, and limbs are striped with black; the tail has black rings. This coloring blends well with dried grass or a thicket of reeds and makes the tiger almost invisible when stalking its prey.
Tigers differ from lions chiefly in the coloring of their coats and in not having manes. Their skeletons are almost identical. Zoologists distinguish the tiger skull by the higher setting of the nasal bones. The two species are alike in hunting habits, though tigers rarely hunt in pairs as lions often do. Tigers and lions can interbreed.
They prey upon many other wild animals. Wherever humans have domestic animals, tigers destroy a large number of cattle, horses, sheep, and goats. If hungry enough, a tiger can kill an ox about every five days, or from 60 to 70 a year. Unless it is cornered or greatly provoked, the tiger avoids the elephant, and it rarely attacks a large buffalo or bear. In battles with these animals the tiger is frequently beaten.
Unlike most members of the cat family, tigers are good swimmers. They cross rivers readily in search of prey. Occasionally, to escape a flood or some other pressing danger, they even climb trees.
Tigers do not naturally prey on people, but a few do become man-eaters when they lose the ability to kill their swifter natural prey. Broken teeth, broken claws, or failing strength may cause an old tiger to become a man-eater. Even young tigers may turn to killing humans if infected gunshot wounds or embedded porcupine quills make it hard for them to hunt. One tiger was said to have killed 127 persons in a single year.
Tiger kittens number from two to five in a litter, but more than two are rarely raised. The gestation period is from 98 to 110 days. The young remain with their mother until their third year.
The Siberian tiger is even larger. It has a long, thick coat. The Bengal and Siberian varieties are the ones most commonly seen in zoos. Other varieties are those of Mongolia, China, Iran, Sumatra, Java, and Bali.
Tigers have been known since remote prehistoric times. During warm interglacial periods in the Ice Age, they roamed far to the north in Europe. Among the most fearsome types was the saber-toothed tiger, which had daggerlike upper teeth.
A century ago tigers ranged through much of Asia. Killed by hunters and driven from their habitat by farmers and timber cutters, their numbers have decreased rapidly. Though they are protected as an endangered species, tigers are still shot for sport and for their skins. They are also poached for their bones, claws, whiskers, and other body parts. In some parts of Asia tonics derived from tiger parts are believed to increase longevity, strength, and courage.
All tigers belong to the same species, Panthera tigris. Several subspecies—the Caspian, Balinese, and Javan tigers—are gone forever. India’s Bengal tiger population fell some 95 percent between 1930, when the nation may have been home to 40,000 tigers, and 1972, when there were fewer than 2,000. Thanks to protection measures and tiger reserves, India’s tiger population has approximately doubled since the 1970s. Still the tiger’s chances for survival in the wild are precarious. Without effective long-term protection tigers could disappear from their natural habitat in the next decade.
Tigers generally prefer large wild prey. Some favorites: pigs, deer, antelope, buffalo, and wild cattle called gaur. Some tigers even attack elephants. Tigers also snack on smaller animals like monkeys, birds, frogs—even porcupines. Patiently, without a sound, the tiger watches, stalks, and attacks. A tiger can take 30-foot (nine-meter) leaps to bring down its prey, which it asphyxiates by holding the animal down and biting its neck. The tiger drags its kill—which may outweigh it by hundreds of pounds—to a favorable feeding spot near water. Guarding, feasting, napping, the tiger stays for days, leaving nothing but the animal’s bones and stomach.
Despite the tiger’s speed and strength, it only succeeds in killing perhaps one in twenty of its intended victims. To save its strength an older tiger may walk under a tree full of chattering monkeys and let out a sudden roar. The awesome noise—which may carry for two miles—usually frightens at least one monkey from its perch into the jaws of the tiger.
With the human population expanding into tiger territory, livestock sometimes becomes a tiger meal, to the annoyance of impoverished farmers. Though most tigers avoid people, ill or injured tigers, no longer able to make bigger kills, have attacked humans. At least 50 people are killed by tigers each year.
All tigers prefer the cover of forest, and each subspecies is adapted to its own habitat, whether the forest is in tropical Sumatra or frozen Siberia. The remaining subspecies are:
Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti) Chinese tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae)
The beautiful and popular white tiger is actually a mutated strain of Bengal tiger. Rare but widely bred in captivity, all captive white tigers are descended from a male named Mohan, captured in northern India in 1951.
More information from the Philadelphia Zoo
Class Mammalia, Order Carnivora, Family Felidae, Genus species Panthera tigris altaica.
In shrub covered mountain forests to elevations of 3,000 feet in Siberia and Manchuria.
Length up to 9 feet with males larger than females; tail about 3.5 feet. Weight of male up to 650 pounds with females up to 365 pounds. Digitigrade with retractible claws. Acute dim-light vision. Fur is long and thick with a summer color of dark stripes on a reddish base in the summer. Winter coat is yellowish with the red missing. Underside is white. Canines are the largest of any meat-eating land animal. Excellent swimmer.
Primarily nocturnal although often active in the daytime during the winter. Usually solitary except for mating and for female with her young. Although solitary, several adults may congregate to share a kill. Communicates by roaring and marks territory by spraying a mix of a glandular secretion and urine.
Breed during winter with a gestation of about 3.5 months with 3 to 4 helpless cubs born. Reach sexual maturity in 3 to 4 years. Cubs are raised by the mother and depend on her for food for about 18 months. Cubs may stay in the mother's territory until 2.5 years old.
In wild: Deer, wild boar, elk, lynx, badger, hare plus salmon and other fish.
In zoo: Horsemeat enriched with vitamins and minerals plus long bones and/or oxtails.
In wild: About 15 years.
In captivity: Up to 20 years.
CITES - Appendix I - "Most restricted; species threatened with extinction."
IUCN - Endangered - "Taxa in danger of extinction and whose survival is unlikely if the causal factors continue to operate."
SSP - The species is a focus animal of the Plan.
The Siberian (or Amur) tiger lives primarily in eastern Russia. A few are found in northeastern China and North Korea. Siberians are the largest tiger subspecies. Males are up to 3.3 meters (10'9") long and weigh up to 300 kg. (660 lbs). Females are smaller, about 2.6 meters (8.5 ft.) from head to tail and 100 to 165 kg. (200 to 370 lbs.) in weight. The Siberian tiger's orange coloring is paler than all other tigers. Its stripes are brown rather than black, and are widely spaced compared to its southern cousins. It has white chest and belly fur, and a thick white ruff of fur around its neck. In the winter its coat grows long and shaggy. In this century the Siberian Tiger has survived four wars, two revolutions, and now an onslaught on its forests. It is estimated that about 430 Siberian Tigers still exist in the wild, up from a low of a rew dozen in the 1940's. About 490 captive Siberian tigers are managed in zoo conservation programs, primarily in Europe (including Russia) and the USA. The Sumatran Tiger is found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. they are the smallest subspecies of tiger. Males average 2.4 meters from head to rear and weigh about 120 kg. Females are smaller about 2.2 meters in length and weighing about 90 kgs. The Sumatran tiger has the darkest coat of all tigers. It's broad, black stripes are closely spaced and often doubled. Unlike the Siberian tiger, it has striped forelegs. About 400 to 500 wild Sumatran Tigers live in zoos around the world. White tigers are not a subspecies of tiger, nor are they albinos. They are just white - colored Bengal Tigers. They have blue eyes, a pink nose, and creamy white fur with chocolate colored stripes. White Tigers are only born when two tigers with the unusual gene for white coloring mate. White Tigers are very rare in the wild, and today they can only be seen in zoos. Three tiger subspecies are considered to have become extinct in the past 70 years. The Bali tiger Panthera Tigris balica, once lived on Bali, where the last tiger was believed to have been killed in 1937. The Caspian tiger, Panthera Tigris virgata, once ranged in Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Mongolia, and the Central Asiatic area of Russia and probably went extinct in the 1950s. The Javan tiger, Panthera Tigris sondaica, formerly ranged on the Indonesian island of Java and was last seen in 1972. There are several ways to distinguish one tiger subspecies from another. However, in some cases the differences are very subtle. Even tiger biologists cannot always say for certain to which subspecies a particular tiger belongs simply by looking at its appearance. The main differences are in size, color, and coat. Tigers found in the cool climates of northern regions are larger than tigers which live in equatorial climates. For example, a male Siberian tiger can weigh as much as 300 kilograms, compared to a male Sumatran tiger, which may weigh only 100 kilograms. Tigers differ by subspecies in both the intensity of their colored stripes, and the stripes themselves. Scientists believe that tiger coloration and stripes evolved as a form of camouflage. Tigers which live in dense tropical forests have darker and denser stripe patterns than tigers living in grasslands. In the same way, tigers which live in grasslands have darker and denser stripe patterns than tigers living in northern forests. All tigers have fur coats, but the length of the fur varies by subspecies. The males of some tiger subspecies also have thick white ruff of hair around their necks. Decades ago, zoos had little success in breeding their captive animals. When their animals died, they often captured more from the wild to maintain their collections. More recently, better care and nutrition in zoos has led to more success in managing and breeding animals in captivity. Today about 90% of mammals in U.S. zoos are captive-born. Captive-breeding efforts are focused on saving tigers from extinction.
The tigers, one of the five species of the genus Panthera, are composed of eight subspecies: The Bengal (Indian) tiger Panthera tigris tigris, distributed throughout the humid forests and grasslands of Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India and Nepal. Estimates of population size vary from about 3,000 to 5,000 Bengal tigers in the wild today. The Indochinese tiger, Panthera tigris corbetti, distributed throughout the humid forests and grasslands of Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. Estimated population size varies from 1,000 to 1,800 of the subspecies in the wild today and 50 to 70 living in various zoos throughout the world. The South Chinese (Amoy) tiger, Panthera tigris amoyensis, distributed throughout the humid forests and grasslands of central and eastern China. Estimated population size varies from 30 to 80 of the subspecies in the wild today and about 50 in zoos located in China. The Siberian (Amur/Ussuri/northeast China/Manchurian) tiger, Panthera tigris altaica, distributed throughout the humid forests and grasslands of China, North Korea and the central Asiatic areas of Russia. Estimates of population size vary from 150 to 450 of the subspecies in the wild today and 500 to 700 living in various zoos throughout the world. The Sumataran tiger, Panthera tigris sumatrae, is found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Estimates of population size vary from 400 to 500 of the subspecies in the wild today, located within the island's five national parks. Approximately 250 Sumatran tigers live in various zoos throughout the world. The Caspian tiger, Panthera tigris virgata, has become extinct in the past 50 years. It once ranged throughout the humid forests and grasslands of Afghanistan, Iran, Mongolia, Turkey and the central Asiatic areas of Russia. The Javan tiger, Panthera tigris sondaica, formerly roamed on the Indonesian island of Java but has become extinct in the last 25 years. The Balinese tiger, Panthera tigris balica, formerly roamed on the Indonesian island of Bali but has become extinct in the last 50 years. The largest and most awesome of the big cats, the tiger exudes grace, beauty and an uncanny ability to disappear and re-emerge from the shadowy outlines of its forest habitat. Few animals evoke such strong feelings of fear and awe as the tiger. The Siberian tiger is the largest and most massively built of the subspecies, adult males have been documented reaching total lengths of up to 13 feet with maximum weights in excess of 800 pounds, although this is very rare. In the more common subspecies, including the Bengal and Indian tigers, adult males reach lengths up to 10 feet and often weigh in excess of 550 pounds while females weigh 300 pounds with average lengths up to 9 feet. The tiger's physique reflects many evolutionary adaptations for the capture and killing of large prey; the hindlimbs are longer than the forelimbs, as an adaptation for jumping; the forelimbs and shoulders are heavily muscled; the forepaws are equipped with long sharp retractile claws; and the skull is foreshortened, increasing the crushing leverage of the jaws. Responding to seasonal and local environmental conditions, a number of geographical variations occur within the tigers including size, stripe pattern, color intensity, and coat length. Background colors range from a bright yellow-brown to dark rust that is overlaid with dark stripes, frequently doubled, extending vertically over the back and down the sides of the body. The chin, throat and undersides are whitish in contrast to the background and stripe coloration. The range of the tiger has undergone a drastic reduction. Tigers were plentiful in the past when tropical rain forests and grasslands, full of wildlife, covered vast areas of Asia. In the early 1900's there were in excess of 100,000 tigers in their native Asia, including about 40,00 in India. By the early 1970's the world population of these cats had been reduced to as few as 4,000 individuals. Fossil evidence suggests that tigers evolved in Siberia, migrating to the tropical lands of southern Asia and the Indian subcontinent, passing north of the Tibetan plateau to the Caspian region and eastern Turkey. All cats will swim if they are forced to, but most species carefully avoid water except to drink. Only the tiger and jaguar seem to relish bathing and cooling off in ponds, lakes and rivers. Often inhabiting the steamy jungles of India and Asia, tigers discovered that water was a convenient coolant and are often found sitting or lying immersed to the neck in rivers or pools. While the tiger's gaudy stripes make it extremely conspicuous outside its natural habitat, they are a perfect camouflage in the elephant grass and brushy undergrowth where it stalks its prey. The cryptic coat coloration disrupts the outline of the body as the hunter stalks or lies in ambush for its prey. Its niche is essentially that of a large solitary stalk and ambush hunter which exploits medium to large sized prey including the Barking deer, sambar, elk, chital, Swamp deer, Red deer, Rusa deer, wild pigs and bison. Tigers occasionally take very large prey such as rhino and elephant calves, water buffalo, moose, wapiti and guar as well as agricultural stock where wild prey is depleted. Tigers hunt alone, actively searching for prey more often than waiting in ambush. In late afternoon the tiger rises from its rest and begins the search for prey. During its patrol, often traveling in excess of 12 miles, the tiger generally follows game trails and even manmade roads and pathways, alert for the slightest noise or movement. The tiger stalks its prey using its natural camouflage and surrounding vegetation to move within a few yards of the its victim. The approach is extremely cautious, with the tiger placing each foot carefully on the ground and pausing regularly to assess the situation, assuming a semi-crouch or crouch, with head up and ears flattened against the top of the head, during the stalk. Exploding from its cover the tiger rushes its victim, covering the intervening distance in a few bounds, bringing the prey down using its forepaws and body weight to knock the animal off balance, while being careful to keep well clear of thrashing hooves or horns. The tiger's attack is generally from the side or from the rear. The killing bite is generally made in the throat or nape area by the canine teeth, controlled by immensely powerful jaw muscles, frequently breaking the neck in the process. Tigers do not easily catch their prey, successful hunts occur in only three out of approximately 10 attempts. Feeding generally occurs only after dragging the carcass into dense undergrowth where it will feed in the late afternoon and throughout the night, leaving occasionally to drink. It is not unusual for tigers to consume 50 to 70 pounds of meat in a night, generally preferring to feed on the rump area first. The tiger usually remains close to the kill, hidden in nearby vegetation, defending its meal from scavengers, but curiously often allowing other unrelated tigers to feed on the carcass. Depending on the size of the prey, the tiger may feed for several days on the same kill, covering the meal with leaves, branches and grass between feedings. A single kill is generally returned to until it is depleted, even though the meat may become putrid or even covered with maggots. Unlike lions, hungry female tigers allow their cubs to feed first even if the prey is small and she may go without. Tigers are generally successful on only thirty percent of its hunts, but a number of factors including prey densities and optimal hunting conditions tend to increase the success rate. Although generally considered a solitary cat, groups of tigers have been successfully maintained in captivity and observations of small groups, attending kills in the wild, indicate a high degree of social tolerance. The demands of the habitat, in which the tiger lives, have not favored the development of a complex social society but has favored a dispersed social system. Tiger mothers with juvenile cubs or a group of siblings will occassionally cooperate on hunts. Additionally, a tiger may hunt with a mate during breeding season, but this is strictly a temporary arrangement restricted to the few weeks when the tigress is in season. Tigers produce a number of vocalizations including roaring, chuffing or prusten and moaning. Moaning occurs at various times including interactions around kills or threat displays, and roaring by males or females in search of a prospective mate. Chuffing or prusten is a vocalization made in social greetings among adults or between an adult and a cub. Interestingly, this sound can be reproduced in humans by forcing air from the mouth, across the lips formed to produce an "f" sound, while vibrating the tongue along the roof of the mouth. This greeting, when directed towards tigers who are in the general vicinity (captive), quite often results in a return chuff. Tigers employ a number of methods to claim exclusive right to its territory. Scent marking trees, bushes, and rocks along trails with urine mixed with secretions from the anal gland, fecal deposits in conspicuous places and scraping marking are the means of olfactory communication among both male and female tigers. Urine ejected during spray marking of territorial boundaries, often at intervals of 50 feet and less, smells musky and pungent, often lingering several months. Scratching especially prominent trees, along the territorial boundaries, may also serve as a visual no trespassing signpost. These chemical and visual signs convey much information to neighboring animals. Males learn the reproductive condition of females, and intruding animals are informed of the resident's presence, thus reducing the possibility of direct physical contact and potential injury. Although the male tiger's range is generally defended against transient males, it usually overlaps the ranges of several females. Estrous females spray repeatedly, as well as moan and roar, all of which serve to attract the attention of nearby males. Females enter estrus at intervals of 3 to 9 weeks, and receptivity lasts 3 to 6 days. After an early period of rejection, often lasting several days, the female tiger becomes receptive and mating may take place as many as 100 times over a period of several days. After a gestation period averaging 104 days, a litter of two to five cubs is born with an average of two surviving to adulthood. The cubs are born blind and helpless, weighing about 2.2 pounds each and already marked with the typical coloration and background striping. The female rears them alone, returning to their hiding place to feed them every few hours. Their eyes open during the second week and they begin to supplement mother's milk with meat at about eight weeks of age, and are fully weaned at six months, becoming totally independent by 18 months, although they may use their mother's range until they are up to 2 1/2 years old. The tigress often changes hiding places for the cubs by first carrying them in her mouth, then calling for them to follow her when they are older. By the age of one, most tiger cubs have begun to hunt and are beginning to become more independent. During this time the tigress often knocks a prey animal down and then allows the cubs to complete the kill. Although they are quite accomplished at capturing and holding smaller prey at this age, they are not effective at killing. Many legends surround the tiger, one of the most persistent has been the story of the "jungle ghost", a white tiger. In 1951 the legend proved to be true when a white male was captured in the Indian district of Rewa. The tiger was not a true albino with pink eyes, but a genetic mutant resulting from a recessive gene that causes the orange background coloration to be replaced with white. Over the past 100 years only about a dozen white tigers have been reported in India, and interestingly only in the Bengal subspecies, suggesting that the mutation occurs in only one out of every 10,000 wild births. The white tiger population in todays zoos traces its ancestry to a single white male named Mohan, collected in 1951. Successive inbreeding in captive populations for the variation has resulted in the approximately 250 white tigers in existence today. The inherent genetic problems associated with the required father/daughter/granddaughter pairings, resulting in the white tiger lineage, often manifests itself in other abnormalities including crossed eyes, bone deformations and reduced immune system functions. These factors have created a controversy among zoos, animal rights groups and those facilities who chose to breed and display the white tigers. At the root of the problem is the fact that white tigers are a popular exhibit, helping increase attendance and revenues at zoos and animal parks, while on the other hand their breeding serves no conservation porpose. In many Asian cultures, tigers were a symbol of strength and royal power and were used as "executioners" in Asian courts. Only noblemen could hunt them, and interestingly established extensive "game reserves," to assure an adequate supply of tigers for hunting. These game reserves have actually provided the tiger with a habitat removed from the encroachment of humans and subsequently helped preserve the species to some extent. In the Hindu religion, the God Shiva rides a tiger and wears a tiger skin for his role as destroyer. In the Buddhist religion, followers of Buddha ride tigers to show their supernatural ability to overcome evil. Tigers were treated as God by many of the forest dwelling peoples of India and great temples and shrines were constructed to worship the tiger. The followers of Islam, in Sumatra, believe tigers punish sinners for Allah. There are many legends about "were-tigers;" people who can turn themselves into tigers. In some of these legends, groups of were-tigers were reported to mimic humans and even live in villages. The evolution of tiger imagery in Asian artwork is well documented. Images of tigers have been discovered in the artwork of the Chinese Shang dynasty, from 1700 to 1050 B.C. The Shang people believed that tigers were powerful ghostly messengers between the human world and the spirit world. Subsequent dynasties, including the Zhou dynasty (1050 to 221 B.C.), began to visualize and depict the tiger in a more realistic manner where sculptures reveal strong muscular shoulders, powerful limbs with long claws, and a powerful head decorated with deadly fangs. These later artists had seen tigers alive and were in awe of the legends depicting their lethal power. Images of tigers were later placed on tombs to keep evil spirits away and protect the souls of the dead. Paintings of tigers asleep among Buddhist monks were meant to symbolize the religion's power to tame the mystical forces of nature. In the 20th century, Chinese artists used the tiger as a national symbol. Tigers only rarely become man-eaters, as they instinctively avoid humans but well documented accounts, of including man in its diet, have inspired many legends and intensified the mystique of the tiger. When humans disrupt the delicate balance between predator and prey, by introducing domesticated livestock into tiger habitat, and thus reducing the available prey, tigers often become man-eaters. As livestock become more plentiful, tigers begin to prey on the herds, where the first human victim is usually a herdsman protecting his own cows or goats. Once acclimated to humans as a food source, tigers often seek out this almost defenseless treat. Tigers have killed more people than any other big cat. An enormous area of mangrove forest at the delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, called the Sundarbans, is home to more than 500 tigers, many of which are man-eaters. No humans live in the Sundarbans, but many go there to fish, collect honey, and cut wood. Since 1975 over 800 people have been killed and eaten by man-eating tigers, who are subsequently hunted down and killed. To protect both humans and tigers, conservationists are trying new ways to prevent tiger attacks. Since tigers generally attack from behind, wearing masks, painted with facial features, on the back of the head confuses the stalking tiger with a victim with no "apparent" back-side. The masks have almost eliminated tiger attacks in the past five years. The use of tiger parts in traditional healing remedies has been traced back to more than 1,000 years in Chinese culture. The practices have now spread to Korea, Japan, India and other areas where significant Asian populations exist. Renewed interest in traditional cures, particularly among the Asian cultures, has accelerated consumption of tiger parts and poaching to fill the demand for this trade has pushed three of the remaining species of tiger close to extinction. Nearly every part of the tiger has been reported to have healing properties by Chinese medical practicioners and in Chinese folklore. Some of the most prevalent claims are; tiger fat to treat leprosy and rhumatism; tiger bone mixed in a salve to alleviate rhumatism and fatigue; eyeballs as a treatment for epilepsy; tiger tail for skin diseases; tiger bile as a treatment for convulsions in children; tiger whiskers for tooth ache; the brain for fatigue and pimples; and tiger penis soup as an aphrodisiac. Tiger bone appears to be an Asian cure-all when ground into a powder, mixed with any number of herbal additives and ingested orally. The consumption of tiger parts also seen as a status symbol among Asian populations. Since the international trade in tiger bone is illegal in all but a few countries, the relatively large supply of tiger parts is presumed to be the result of poaching causing the prices of the contraband to skyrocket. It has been estimated that an entire tiger, when being utilized in traditional medicines, is valued in excess of $20,000 at the retail level. Perhaps the greatest threat to the survival of the tiger is destruction of its habitat. With the expansion of human populations, the logging of forests, the elimination of natural prey, and the spread of agriculture, there is continuous conflict between humans and the tiger.