Species Brief: The Tiger (Panthera tigris)
Photo credit: H.V. Praveen Kumar.
Did You Know?: Did you know that the Bengal tiger is the national animal of India and Bangladesh, the Malayan tiger is the national animal of Malaysia, and the Siberian or Amur tiger is the national animal of South Korea? India is home to the world’s largest population of wild tigers.
Natural History and Physical Characteristics:
Wild tigers are found only in Asia, and currently survive in 13 countries: India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia (Sumatra), Cambodia, Lao PDR, Vietnam, China, and Russia. They are extinct in 11 countries where they once roamed. Tigers are highly adaptable in a wide range of habitat types, but require sufficient cover, proximity to water, and an abundance of prey. When given space and isolation from human interference, the tiger breeds well, thriving in vast landscapes. As an apex predator, it provides a protective “umbrella” to flora, fauna, and water sources in the regions where it thrives.
The tiger is the world’s largest cat. The males of all subspecies are heavier than the females. Males of the largest subspecies, the Amur (Siberian) tiger, may weight up to 306 kg (670 lbs), with a total body length of up to 3.3 m (11 ft). The males of the smallest subspecies (Sumatran) weigh up to 140 kg (310 lbs).
The tiger’s most recognizable feature is a pattern of dark vertical stripes on reddish-orange fur, with a lighter underside.
Tigers rely primarily on sight and sound rather than smell to hunt. They hunt alone, and because they are so large, they are incapable of running at high speed for long distances. As a result, tigers generally stalk and ambush their prey in dense cover. Typically just one in 20 hunts ends in a successful kill.
Tigers feed primarily on large and medium-sized animals, preferring native ungulates. In India, these include sambar, chital, barasingha, wild boar, gaur, and nilgai. Tigers rarely prey on humans, and most “man-eaters” are old or wounded animals that have become incapable of catching their natural prey. Tigers are usually nocturnal, though in areas of very low human disturbance, it has been discovered that they hunt during daylight hours as well.
Aside from mothers and offspring, tigers usually live solitary lives. They move through large territories, marking them with urine, feces, and scratch marks on trees.
Tigers attain sexual maturity at 3-4 years for females, 4-5 years for males. About half of cubs do not survive more than two years. On average, tigers give birth to 2-3 cubs every 2-2.5 years. Cubs remain with their mothers until about two years of age before dispersing to their own territories, or, in the case of females, moving into areas that overlap with their mother’s.
Just 100 years ago, there were an estimated 100,000 wild tigers living in Asia, some 40,000 in India alone. Today, fewer than 3,200 remain. Six subspecies (Bengal, Indochinese, Sumatran, Amur, Malayan, and South China) survive; three (Javan, Caspian, and Bali) have gone extinct in the last 80 years. Tigers persist in less than 7 per cent of their historic range.
The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) lists the tiger as “Endangered.”
Wild tigers face threats on four fronts: 1) their habitat is being destroyed or fragmented due to agricultural development, including large monocultures such as palm oil plantations, as well as by climate change, particularly in the vulnerable Sundarbans mangrove forest between India and Bangladesh; 2) tigers are threatened by close proximity with humans as human population rises; 3) growing human populations are hunting tiger prey animals like deer and wild pigs, leading tigers to attack livestock, and suffer retaliation; and 4) wild tigers are hunted to meet the demands of the illegal wildlife trade market. China leads in demand for tiger parts for traditional medicinal purposes, and the international illegal trade in wildlife products is a booming business yielding more than $6 billion per year.
The Hindu goddess Durga is a ten-armed warrior who rides a tiger into battle. In southern India, the god Ayyappan was associated with a tiger. In many mythologies, the tiger is revered as the protector of the forest.
Books and Links:
Padel, Ruth (2006). Tigers in Red Weather: A Quest for the Last Wild Tigers. Walker & Co. ISBN 9780802715449
Thapar, Valmik, and Rathore, Fateh, Singh (2009). The Secret Life of Tigers. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195697902
Rabinowitz, Alan (2010). Life in the Valley of Death: The Fight to Save Tigers in a Land of Guns, Gold, and Greed. Shearwater. ISBN 978159726840
Tigers - My Life - Ranthambhore and Beyond.
New Tiger Reserve.
Widespread Tiger Poaching In M.P. And Maharashtra.
Jennifer Scarlott, Source: Sanctuary Asia.