U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Public Domain
Tigers (Panthera tigris) are mammals of the Felidae family and
one of four "big cats" in the panthera genus. They are predatory carnivores and
the largest and most powerful of all living cat species. The Indian subcontinent
is home to more than 80% of the wild tigers in the world. Tigers breed well in
captivity, and the captive population in the United States may rival the wild
population of the world.
Most tigers live in forests and grasslands, for which their camouflage is
ideally suited, and where it is easy to hunt prey that is faster or more agile.
Among the big cats, only the tiger and jaguar are strong swimmers; tigers are
often found bathing in ponds, lakes, and rivers. Tigers hunt alone and eat
primarily medium-sized herbivores such as deer, wild pigs, and buffalo. However,
they will also take larger or smaller prey on occasion. Humans are the tiger's
only serious predator and often kill tigers illegally for their fur. Their bones
and nearly all body parts are used in Chinese medicine for a range of purported
uses including pain killers and aphrodisiacs. Poaching for fur and destruction
of habitat have greatly reduced tiger populations in the wild, and it has been
placed on the endangered species list.
Although different subspecies of tiger have different characteristics, in
general male tigers weigh between 180 and 325 kg (400 lb and 715 lb) and females
between 100 and 180 kg (220 lb and 400 lb). The males are between 2.6 and 3.3
metres (8 ft 6 in and 10 ft 9 in) in length, and the females are between 2.3 and
2.75 metres (7 ft 6 in and 9 ft) in length. Of the living subspecies, Sumatran
tigers are the smallest, and Amur or Siberian Tigers are generally the largest.
However, recent studies show a decline in average bodyweights for tigers,
especially in the Amur (sometimes referred to as Siberian) subspecies. This may
be caused by excessive poaching, a weakened prey base and habitat decline.
Individual tigers living in the wild weighing significantly more than 270 kgs
(around 600 lbs) have not been seen in quite a while. The legendary 700 lb+
tigers of the past are no longer to be found outside of zoos or circuses.
The stripes of most tigers vary from brown or hay to pure black, although
White tigers have far fewer apparent stripes. The form and density of stripes
differs between subspecies, but most tigers have in excess of 100 stripes. The
now extinct Javan tiger may have had far more than this. The pattern of stripes
is unique to each animal, and thus could potentially be used to identify
individuals, much in the same way as fingerprints are used to identify people.
This is not, however, a preferred method of identification, due to the
difficulty of recording the stripe pattern of a wild tiger. It seems likely that
the function of stripes is camouflage, serving to hide these animals from their
prey. Few large animals have colour vision as capable as that of humans, so the
colour is not as great of a problem as one might suppose. The stripe pattern is
found on a tiger's skin and if you shaved one, you would find that its
distinctive camouflage pattern would be preserved.
Several obscure references to various other tiger colors have also been
found, including most notably the reference to the "blue" or slate-colored
Tigers have the longest and biggest canine teeth of all the wild cats. A
tiger's canines are larger and longer than those of a similar-sized lion. The
reason for this is likely due to the habit of preying on large herbivores in its
habitat whose bones are thick and large; the tiger's canines have to be strong
enough to break the bones of their prey. Moreover, as tigers hunt alone to bring
down their prey, they have to work harder than lions, which hunt in groups.
Wild Cats of the World By M Sunquist from Amazon.co.uk
"Each of their accounts of the 36 species
of cat contains a description of the cat, including
human interactions with it, as well as detailed data on
its distribution, ecology and behaviour, status in the
wild, and efforts to conserve it."
Tigers often ambush their prey as other cats do (including the domestic cat).
Tigers overpower their prey from any angle, using their body size and strength
to knock prey off balance. Once prone, the tiger bites the back of the neck,
often breaking the prey's spinal cord, piercing their windpipe, or severing the
jugular vein or carotid artery. For large prey, a bite to the throat is
preferred. After biting, the tiger then uses its muscled forelimbs to hold onto
the prey, bringing it to the ground. The tiger remains latched onto the neck
until its prey dies.
Powerful swimmers, tigers are known to kill prey while swimming. Some tigers
have even ambushed boats for the fishermen on board or their catch of fish.
The vast majority of tigers never hunt humans except in desperation. The
usual man-eater is an injured or ill tiger which can no longer catch its usual
prey. Like most other large predators they generally recognize humans as
unsuitable prey because of the danger of being hunted by a predator even more
dangerous. The mangrove swamps of Bengal are, however, a haven for man-eaters.
In the wild world, tigers can leap as high as 5 m, and as far as 9 m -10 m,
making them one of the highest-jumping mammals, perhaps second only to the puma
. They have been reported to
carry domestic livestock weighing 50 kg while easily jumping over fences 2 m
high. Their forelimbs, heavily muscled, are used to hold tightly onto the prey
and avoid being dislodged, especially by large preys such as guars. A single
tremendous blow of the paw can kill a full-grown wolf or heavily injure a 150 kg
Biology and ecology
Adult tigers are mostly solitary. They do not maintain strict territories,
but their home ranges are often maintained unless threatened by other tigers.
They follow specific trails within their ranges. A tigress may have a home range
of 20 sq km while the ranges of males are much larger, covering 60-100 sq km.
Male home ranges may overlap those of many females, but males are intolerant of
other males within their territory. Because of their aggressive nature,
territorial disputes can leave both tigers injured. To identify his territory
the male marks trees by spraying urine and anal gland secretions on trees as
well as by marking trails with scat. Males show a behaviour called flehmen, a
grimacing face, when identifying the condition of a female's reproductive
condition by sniffing their urine markings.
A female is only receptive for a few days and mating is frequent during that
time period. A pair will copulate frequently and noisily, like other cats. The
gestation period is 103 days and 3-4 cubs of about 1 kg each are born. The
females rear them alone. Wandering male tigers may kill cubs to make the female
receptive. At 8 weeks, the cubs are ready to follow their mother out of the den.
The cubs become independent around 18 months of age, but it is not until they
are around 2-2 1/2 years old that they leave their mother. The cubs reach sexual
maturity by 3-4 years of age. The female tigers generally own territory near
their mother, while males tend to wander in search of mates before taking over
the territory of another male tiger. Over the course of her life, a female tiger
will give birth to an equal number of male and female cubs.
In the wild, tigers mostly feed on deer, wild boar, and wild cattle,
including gaur and water buffaloes, young rhinos and elephants, and sometimes,
leopards and bears. Sambar and wild boar are their favoured preys in India. Young
elephants are another of their favourite food items. However, as young calves
and juveniles always travel in herds with their mothers and relatives, the
possibility for a lone tiger to catch a young elephant is quite low, as the
tiger would usually have to deal with the calves' protectors, which would
Tigers prefer large preys such as sambar and gaur because they provide more
meat and last for many days, avoiding the need for another hunt. In all of their
range, tigers are the top predators and they do not fear from any other
carnivores other than the dhole or Indian wild dog, which makes up for strength
in numbers. They generally do not prey on large mammals such as elephants, and
rhinos, although they will prey on weak young whenever they have an opportunity.
However, a hungry tiger will attack anything it regards as potential food.
Of all the land carnivores, tiger is the only species that has been known to
charge and take down even full-grown male elephants, one-on-one. For centuries
in Asia, especially in Indochina, where elephants used to be utilized in
military as weapons, minor ethnic tribes, who are specialized in capturing and
training elephants, have the traditions of testing captured male elephants by
pressing one against a tiger. If an elephant survives the fight, it is
considered ideal for battles. Today, however, due to the depletion of both
species, these extraordinary confrontations become exceedingly rare and are
hardly ever witnessed by humans in the wild.
Tigers have been studied in the wild using a variety of techniques. The
populations of tigers were estimated in the past using plaster casts of their
pugmarks. In recent times, camera trapping has been used instead. Newer
techniques based on DNA from their scat are also being evaluated. Radio
collaring has also been a popular approach to tracking them for study in the
There are nine subspecies of tiger, three of which are extinct and one of
which is almost certain to become so in the near future. Their historical range
(severely diminished today) ran through Russia, Siberia, Iran, Afghanistan,
India, China and South-east Asia, including the Indonesian islands. All current
tigers are believed to be evolved from the South China Tiger. These are the
surviving subspecies, in descending order of wild population:
- The Bengal tiger or the Royal Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)
is found all across India in varied habitats - grasslands, subtropical and
tropical rainforests, scrub forests, wet and dry deciduous forests and
mangroves. The government's estimated population of these tigers in the wild vary
between 3,100 and 4,500; 3,000 of these are found in India alone. However, many
Indian tiger conservationists doubt this, and that this figure is overly
optimistic. The number of Bengal tiger in India may be lower then 2000
, as most of the collected
statistics are based on pugmark identification, which often give biased result.
The Bengal tiger is also found in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan. Even though
this is the most 'common' tiger, these tigers are under severe pressure from
both habitat reduction and poaching. In 1972, India launched a massive wildlife
conservation project, known as Project Tiger, to protect the depleting numbers
of tigers in India. The project helped increase the population of these tigers
from 1,200 in the 1970s to 3,000 in 1990s and is considered as one of the most
successful wildlife conservation programs. The average size of a male Bengal
tiger is approximately 200-260 kg (475-580 lbs). However, there are recorded
instances of shot males weighed more than 300 kg. One large male killed in Nepal
in 1942 weighed 318 kg, while another, killed in 1910 in India, weighed 317 kg.
The largest Bengal tiger ever shot, was a male 3.3 m in total length and weighed
386 kg; this feline giant was killed in 1967.
- Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti), also called
Corbett's tiger, is found in Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and
Vietnam. Estimates of its population vary between 1,200 to 1,800, but it seems
likely that the number is in the lower part of the range. The largest current
population is in Malaysia, where illegal poaching is strictly controlled, but
all existing populations are at extreme risk from habitat fragmentation and
inbreeding. In Vietnam, almost three-quarters of the tigers killed provide stock
for Chinese pharmacies. Also, the tigers are seen by poor natives as a resource
through which they can ease poverty. Indochinese tigers are smaller and darker
than Bengal tigers, about the size of African lions. Males weigh from 150-190 kg
on average while females are smaller at 110-140 kg.
- The Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni), exclusively
found in the southern (Malaysian) part of the Malay Peninsula, was not
considered a subspecies in its own right until 2004. The new classification came
about after a study by Luo et al from the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity Study,
part of the National Cancer Institute, US. Recent counts showed there are
600-800 tigers in the wild, making it the third largest tiger population behind
the Bengal tiger and the Indochinese tiger. The Malayan tiger is a national icon
in Malaysia, appearing on its coat of arms and in logos of Malaysian
institutions, such as Maybank.
- The Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatran) is found only on
the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The wild population is estimated at between
400 and 500, seen predominantly in the islandís five national parks. Recent
genetic testing has revealed the presence of unique genetic markers, indicating
that it may develop into a separate species, if it is not made extinct. This has
led to suggestions that Sumatran tigers should have greater priority for
conservation than any other subspecies. Habitat destruction is the main threat
to the existing tiger population (logging continues even in the supposedly
protected national parks), but 66 tigers were recorded as being shot and killed
between 1998 and 2000, or nearly 20% of the total population. Sumatran tiger is
the smallest of all living tiger subspecies. Adult male weighs between 100-130
kg, female 70-90 kg. Their small size is an adaptation to the thick, dense
forests of the Sumatra island where they reside, as well as the smaller-sized
- The Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), also known as
the Amur, Manchurian, Altaic, Korean or North
China tiger, is confined to the Amur-Ussuri region of Primorsky Krai and
Khabarovsk Krai in far eastern Siberia, where it is now protected. Considered
the largest subspecies, with a head and body length of 190Ė230 cm (the tail of a
tiger is 60Ė110 cm long) and an average weight of around 227 kilograms (500 lb)
the Amur tiger is also noted for its thick coat, distinguished by a paler golden
hue and fewer stripes. The heaviest wild Siberian tiger on record weighed in at
384 kg, but according to Mazak
these giants are not confirmed via reliable references.
Even so, a six-month old Siberian tiger can be as big as a fully grown leopard.
The last two censuses (1996 and 2005) found 450Ė500 Amur tigers within their
single, and more or less continuous, range making it one of the largest
undivided tiger populations in the world. Genetic research in 2009 demonstrated
that the Siberian tiger, and the western "Caspian tiger" (once thought to have
been a separate subspecies that became extinct in the wild in the late 1950s)
are actually the same subspecies, since the separation of the two populations
may have occurred as recently as the past century due to human intervention.
from the Detroit Zoo, USA
- The South China tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis), also known
as the Amoy or Xiamen tiger, is the most critically endangered
subspecies of tiger and will almost certainly become extinct. It is also
considered to be the evolutionary precursor of all tiger subspecies. This
species of tiger is one of the smallest of the tiger family. The length of the
South China tiger ranges from 2.2-2.6 m (87-104 inches) for both males and
females. Males weigh between 127 and 177 kg (280-390 lbs.) while females weigh
between 100 and 118 kg (220-260 lbs.). It seems likely that the last known wild
South China tiger was shot and killed in 1994, and no live tigers have been seen
in their natural habitat for the last 20 years. In 1959, Mao Zedong declared the
tiger to be a pest, and numbers quickly fell from about 4,000 to approximately
200 in 1976. In 1977, the Chinese government reversed the law, and banned the
killing of wild tigers, but this appears to have been too late to save the
subspecies. There are currently 59 known captive Chinese tigers, all within
China, but these are known to be descended from only six animals. Thus, the
genetic diversity required to maintain the subspecies no longer exists, making
its eventual extinction very likely.
- Tigers are uncommon in the fossil record. The distinct fossils of tigers
were discovered from Pleistocene depositsómostly in Asia. Nevertheless, remains
of described tiger fossils 100,000 years old in Alaska. Possibly because of a
land bridge between Siberia and Alaska during the ice ages, this Alaskan tiger
might be a North American population of Siberian tiger. In addition, scientists
discover similarities between tiger bones and those of the American lion: an
extinct big cat that dominated much of North America as recently as 10,000 years
ago. This controversial observations may lead to the assumption that the
American lion was a New World tiger species. Tiger fossils have also turned up
in Japan. These fossils prove that the Japanese tiger was no bigger than the
island subspecies of tigers of recent ages. This may be due to the phenomenon in
which body is related to environmental space, or in the case of a large predator
like a tiger, availability of prey.
- The Balinese tiger (Panthera tigris balica) has always been
limited to the island of Bali. These tigers were hunted to extinctionóthe last
Balinese tiger is thought to have been killed at Sumbar Kima, West Bali on 27
September 1937; this was an adult female. No Balinese tiger was ever held in
captivity. The tiger still plays an important role in Balinese Hindu religion.
- The Javan tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica) was limited to the
Indonesian island of Java. It now seems likely that this subspecies was made
extinct in the 1980s, as a result of hunting and habitat destruction, but the
extinction of this subspecies was extremely probable from the 1950s onwards
(when it is thought that fewer than 25 tigers remained in the wild). The last
specimen was sighted in 1979.
- The Caspian tiger or Persian Tiger (Panthera tigris virgata)
appears to have become extinct in the late 1960s, with the last reliable
sighting in 1968. Historically it ranged through Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq,
Pakistan, the former Soviet Union and Turkey. It was said, such a tiger was last
shot dead in the south-eastern-most Turkey in 1970. This tiger was said to be
yellow with black stripes.
Traditional Asian Medicine
Tiger parts are used in traditional Asian medicines. Many people in Asia
believe that tiger parts have medicinal properties. 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 from the tip of the
tigerís tail are said to ward off evil spirits.
- Crushed tiger bones added to wine serves as a Taiwanese general tonic.
- Tigerís skin is said to cure a fever caused by ghosts. In order to use it
effectively, the user must sit on the tigerís skin, but beware. If too much time
is spent on the tigerís skin, the 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.
- If whiskers are kept as a charm, legend says one will be protected against
bullets and have increased courage.
- One will allegedly possess courage and shall be protected from sudden fright
if you wear a tigerís claw as a piece of jewelry or carry one in your pocket.
- Alleged strength, cunning, and courage can be obtained by consuming a
- Floating ribs of a tiger are considered a good luck talisman.
- The tigerís penis is said to be an aphrodisiac.
- Small bones in a tigerís feet tied to a childís wrists are said to be a sure
cure for convulsions. 
Tigers in literature and popular culture
The word tiger is borrowed from Greek tigris, itself borrowed from Persian
(). American English Tigress first recorded 1611. Tiger's-eyes
"yellowish-brown quartz" is recorded from 1891.
The tiger has certainly managed to appeal to man's imagination. Both Rudyard
Kipling in The Jungle Book and William Blake in his Songs of
Experience depict him as a ferocious, fearful animal. In The Jungle Book,
the tiger Shere Khan is the biggest and most dangerous enemy of Mowgli, the
uncrowned king of the jungle. Even in the Bill Watterson comic strip, Calvin
and Hobbes, Hobbes the tiger sometimes escapes his role of cuddly animal. At
the other end of the scale there is Tigger, the tiger from A. A. Milne's Winnie
the Pooh stories, who is always happy and never induces fear. In the award
winning A Tiger for Malgudi, a Yogi befriends a tiger. Rajah, a pet of
the characters Aladdin and Jasmine of Disney's animated feature film Aladdin,
is uncharacteristically dog-like in its behaviour, but even more oddly Tony
the Tiger is renowned for his Frosted Flakes and may be the only cat,
real or fictional, who thrives on a vegetarian diet.
A stylized tiger cub was a mascot of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games of Seoul
with the name "Hodori", and the tiger is one of the most chosen animals to be a
mascot for sports teams, e.g. Major League Baseball team Detroit Tigers
Humble Oil, a division of Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (Jersey
Standard), used a stylized tiger to promote gasoline and the slogan "Put a Tiger
in your Tank". Jersey Standard adopted the use of a real tiger in its
advertising when it took the Exxon name company-wide in 1972, and the brand kept
the tiger mascot as a part of ExxonMobil when they merged in 1999.
Most recently, Yann Martel won the Man Booker Prize in 2002 with his novel
Life of Pi about an Indian boy castaway on the Pacific Ocean with a Royal
In the Chinese novel Water Margin, tigers appeared numerous times as
attacking travellers. In the Wu Song story he became famous when slaying a tiger
with his bare hands who had been terrorizing the local towns nearly a decade. In
reality, wild tigers, being dwellers of the jungle, have rarely been found in
larger human cities in China, where the idea of a tiger on the street can act as
a symbol of paranoia or unfounded fear, giving rise to such idioms as three
men make a tiger. The Tiger is one of the 12 Chinese Zodiac animals.
Whilst tigers have been known to eat humans, they generally only do so in
times of extreme desperation, such as injury, weakness, or advanced starvation.
World's favourite animal
In a poll conducted by Animal Planet, the Tiger was voted the world's
favourite animal, narrowly beating man's best friend, the dog. More than 50,000
viewers from 73 countries voted in the poll. The tiger received 21% of the vote,
the dog 20, the dolphin 13, the horse 10, the lion 9, the snake 8, followed by
the elephant, the chimpanzee, the orangutan and the whale.
Animal behaviourist Candy d'Sa, who worked with Animal Planet on the list,
said: "We can relate to the tiger, as it is fierce and commanding on the
outside, but noble and discerning on the inside".
Callum Rankine, international species officer at the World Wildlife
Federation conservation charity, said the result gave him hope. "If people are
voting tigers as their favourite animal, it means they recognise their
importance, and hopefully the need to ensure their survival," he said.
- Jim Corbett, Man-eaters of Kumaon, Oxford University Press,
- Tom brakefield, Big cats kingdom of might, Voyageur press, 1993
- [PBS] http://www.pbs.org/edens/bhutan/a_tiger.htm
Q. Can you find out if humans use tigers for anything?
A. Unfortunately their bodies are used for medicinal
properties in traditional Chinese medicine
|Q. How many young do the adult amur tigers produce?
|A. Tiger babies - Tiger cubs are born small and helpless, but
the mother must leave them alone while she hunts. Tiger cubs donít hunt on their
own until they are two years old. A tigress can have a litter of up to seven
cubs every two years. In the wild, the mother could not kill enough prey to feed
so many hungry cubs, so usually only two survive. Source:San Diego Zoo: This is
for Tigers in general