- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Carnivora
- Family: Felidae
- Subfamily: Pantherinae
- Genus: Panthera
- Species: tigris
Scientific Name: Panthera tigris
IUCN Red Status and Population
Endangered (Goodrich et al. 2015).
Population Trend: Decreasing
Population: ~ 3,200 (Goodrich et al. 2015)
Weight: 220-660 pounds
Length: 6-10 feet
Reproduction: Every two years, a female will typically give birth to 2-4 cubs. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, there are only 1,000 breeding females left in the wild tiger population as a whole.
A tiger will leave its mother after 2 years of age and find its own territory to roam. They reach sexual maturity at 3-4 years. Juvenile mortality is high with tigers, with about half of them not surviving to adulthood. Tigers have been known to live up to 20 years old in the wild, although a 10-year lifespan is typical.
Tigers are sexually dimorphic; the males are a larger size than the females. The smallest subspecies of tiger is the Sumatran weighing around between 160-300 pounds, while the largest male of the Siberian (Amur) subspecies can weigh up to 660 pounds.
Natural Behaviors: As solitary animals, a tiger’s home range is determined typically by the availability of prey as well as habitat. They mark their territory with scent glands on their face, spraying urine, scratching trees, feces, and vocalizing to warn competing tigers or attract mates. Tigers have a scent gland on the roof of their mouth called the Jacobsen’s Organ, where they curl their lips and stick out their tongue called a Flehmen’s Response. A variety of mammals use this organ to sense different odors, and it acts as a way of communication. Tigers use this sense to identify reproductive status, to identify competitive tiger territory, and as warning signs to stay away.
Tigers use their tails to communicate. For example, when the tail is moved rapidly from side to side or low with an occasional twitch, they are expressing aggression. Their stripes are also useful in that they are a disruptive form of camouflage and help break up their body patterns so they do not look like one solid mass to their prey. The orange color blends in well with the surrounding environment. All tigers have different stripes and are like fingerprints. They also have white spots on the back of their ears, to mimic eyes so they cannot be ambushed by other predators. If a tiger is threatened, they twist their ears as a warning signal.
Their coats have adapted to survive the cold with long dense fur to protect them from wind, rain, and frost. In warm areas, their fur is thinner and shorter than in colder climates. Male tigers have a scruff of fur around their faces as well. Cats have a rough surface on their tongue called papillae or rasps that remove fur or feathers from prey and also groom their coats.
Habitat Types: Tropical and temperate forests, mangrove swamps, grasslands, savannahs
Historic Home Ranges: Turkey through South and Southeast Asia to far eastern shores
Current Home Ranges: South and Southeast Asia, China, Russia, Far East
Tigers are the largest of the big cat subfamily Pantherinae which includes the big cats (tigers, lions, jaguar, leopards). They are solitary animals, meaning they live alone. They only come together in the wild to mate, or if there is a mother raising cubs. Tigers stalk their prey, capable of consuming 60-80 pounds of meat at one time.
Human-wildlife conflict is causing unrelenting pressure for tiger survival. Poaching, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and retaliatory killings are devastating tiger natural habitats and populations. They are forced to compete with growing human populations for space and survival. This is affecting each subspecies of tiger in their natural home range. All tiger subspecies are classified as Endangered.
Poaching for their body parts is still a lucrative industry, with their skins and body parts being used for traditional Asian medicines. According to National Geographic, research has shown that populations have shrunk 50% in just three tiger generations (21 to 27 years), with their range also being halved in the same amount of time (“Tiger Facts” 2015). Fragmented territories make it more difficult for tigers to find a mate, and therefore hinder their ability to increase in population size.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) states that tigers have lost 93% of their natural home range due to human activities. Forests are being continuously cleared for agriculture, timber, and to create roads for human development. These activities pose dire threats to tiger habitats, as they depend on vast territories to survive. Small scattered habitats, due to development, cause vulnerability to the species by decreasing the chance of survival due to lack of space and create a higher chance of inbreeding. Confining tigers in smaller spaces also increases the chance of poaching as they are forced out of protected areas to establish their own territories (“Facts”).
As human populations continue to grow, the forests shrink and prey abundance decreases. Tigers are forced to leave protected areas in search for territory and food, and therefore show up in human-dominated areas. As those tigers begin hunting livestock for food, the local communities will kill them in retaliation, as they depend on their livestock for their livelihood. These tigers often end up for sale in black markets.
Poaching continues to be the most immediate threat to wild tiger populations. Every part of their body is traded in illegal wildlife markets. The demand is relentless, as their body parts are used for traditional medicine, folk remedies, and also are considered a status symbol in many Asian cultures.
The problem lies in having limited resources to protect areas in the countries where tigers live. Even places with strong enforcement of laws continue to fight with poachers. In both Indochina and China, there are thousands of acres that are empty due to the never-ending pressure from poachers, according to WWF (“Facts”). When a single tiger is killed, it has a ripple effect on other tigers as well as the ecosystem. If a mother is killed, her cubs will most likely not survive. When a male tiger is poached, other males will compete for his territory, potentially leading to more death among that population.
Why Tigers Matter
Tigers are an apex predator, being at the top of the food chain in the wild. They are a vital link in maintaining rich biodiversity in their surrounding ecosystems. They are an umbrella species, protecting tigers in the wild also protects many other species of flora and fauna around them. Provides ecosystem services like clean water and air, things that humans need to survive and be healthy. By protecting a single tiger, roughly 25,000 acres of forest are also protected.
Tigers keep ungulate populations in check and maintain the balance between herbivores and the vegetation they feed upon. If tigers were to go extinct, the whole ecosystem balance would collapse. Saving tigers is not only about keeping the beautiful species around, but also making sure that humans live longer by maintaining healthy ecosystems. Forests are known to provide ecological services like clean air, water, soil, temperature regulation, etc. This apex predator plays a pivotal role in ecosystem survival.
The key to the species’ survival is the immediate protection of the remaining wild populations, and recovering large habitat and corridors for the species to roam. Natural prey populations must also be managed sustainably. Mitigating human-wildlife conflicts between locals and tiger conservation is crucial to save the species from extinction.
History of Subspecies
In the early 1900’s, around 100,000 tigers existed in the wild throughout their natural home range. There is estimated to only be between 3,000-4,500 tigers left in the wild. They inhabit a small fraction of historic home range, with fragmented territories causing breeding difficulties. Three of the nine tiger subspecies became extinct during the 20th century (Caspian, Javan, Bali), as well as the South China tiger not being seen in the wild for 25 years is considered to be functionally extinct. Below are the current tiger subspecies and numbers according to Defenders of Wildlife (“Basic Facts About Tigers”) and WWF (“Facts”).
Population: ~2,000-2,500 in the wild. Most abundant subspecies
IUCN Red List Status: Endangered (Chundawat & Mallon 2011)
Population Trend: Decreasing
Scientific Name: Panthera tigris tigris
Weight: ~ 550lbs
Home Range: India, small populations in Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China, and Myanmar. 18 tigers have been seen to inhabit 39 square miles of India’s Corbett Tiger Reserve, while other subspecies require much more range.
Habitat Type: Dry wetland, deciduous forests, grasslands, temperate forests, and mangrove forests
Creation of India’s tiger reserves during the 1970’s stabilized Bengal tiger numbers, although poaching has put them at risk in this area. Their natural home range is also threatened by sea level rise due to climate change. Even though it is the most abundant tiger subspecies, it is still endangered and under constant threat from poaching, habitat loss and destruction, loss of natural prey, as well as human population growth.
Population: ~ 450-540 in the wild
IUCN Red List Status: Endangered (Miquelle & Seryodkin 2011)
Population Trend: Stable
Scientific Name: Panthera tigris altaica
Weight: 400-600lbs (largest subspecies and big cat in the world)
Home Range: Sikhote-Alin range in Promorski and Khabrovsk provinces of Russian Far East, China, and possibly North Korea. They have the largest home range of any subspecies due to searching over vast distances to find food in areas with low prey density. Siberian tigers represent the largest un-fragmented subspecies in the world.
Habitat Type: Temperate forest
Amur (Siberian) tigers were almost hunted to extinction in the 1940’s, with only 40 individuals remaining in the wild. They were saved when Russia became the first country to grant the species full governmental protection. By the 1980’s, populations increased to roughly 500 individuals. Poaching is still a major threat to this subspecies, but anti-poaching efforts and continued conservation have helped the population increase to 540.
Population: ~ 350 in the wild
IUCN Red List Status: Endangered (Lynam & Nowell 2011)
Scientific Name: Panthera tigris corbetti
Population Trend: Decreasing
Weight: 390-550 pounds
Home Range: Thailand, Cambodia, China, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, and Vietnam
Habitat Type: Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests and dry forests
Main threats to this subspecies include rapid development of natural homeland and poaching. This region does contain the largest area of tiger habitat measured to be approximately the size of France, but the habitat is heavily fragmented. Due to decades of poaching, many of these areas no longer have tigers. There is still hope for subspecies who reside in areas with low human population densities. It is estimated that roughly 250 Indochinese tigers live on the Dawna Tennaserim landscape of the Thailand-Myanmar border. Protecting their remaining habitat is critical.
Population: ~ 400-500 left in the wild
IUCN Red List Status: Critically Endangered (Linkie et al. 2008)
Population Trend: Decreasing
Scientific Name: Panthera tigris sumatrae
Weight: 165-300 pounds
Home Range: Indonesia, Sumatra Island
Habitat Type: Tropical broadleaf evergreen forests, freshwater swamp forests, and peat swamps
Sumatran tigers are the smallest surviving tiger subspecies with heavy black stripes. They are currently clinging on to survival, with remaining habitat fragmented within the Sumatran island. Accelerating deforestation as well as increased poaching pressure means that this animal is extremely close to extinction. Acacia plantations and palm oil farms have destroyed 99% of their habitat. There is still a substantial market for Sumatran tiger parts even with elevated laws and conservation efforts. They are losing their prey and habitats at accelerated rates and poaching does not show any signs of decline.
Population: ~ 250-340 left in wild
IUCN Red List Status: Critically Endangered (Kawanishi 2015)
Population Trend: Decreasing
Scientific Name: Panthera tigris jacksoni
Weight: 220-260 pounds
Home Range: Malay Peninsula, Southern tip of Thailand
Habitat Type: Tropical moist broadleaf forests
Malayan tigers were found to be a separate subspecies of tiger from Indochinese in 2004 with DNA testing. Threats include continual human development in the very small area the subspecies resides, causing habitat fragmentation and lack of space to hunt prey. With the population being dangerously low, and the subspecies critically endangered, it is vital that protection of natural habitat range, as well as prey, is provided or else this subspecies may become extinct in the near future. Poaching is also a threat to this subspecies.
Population: ~ 0 predicted to be extinct in the wild
IUCN Red List Status: Critically Endangered (Nyhus 2008)
Population Trend: Unknown
Scientific Name: Panthera tigris amoyensis
Home Range: Southern China
Habitat Type: South East China Hainan Moist Forests
South China tigers are thought to be “functionally extinct,” according to the World Wildlife Fund (“Facts”). In the early 1950’s there was an estimated 4,000 tigers in existence. Thousands were killed as they were thought to be a pest. Killings, habitat destruction, and fragmentation left the population in dire conditions. Even though the Chinese government banned hunting in 1979, the population did not recover. By 1996 there was thought to be only 30-80 individuals, and the subspecies has not been recorded for 25 years in the wild. The captive population of South China tigers consists of 57 individuals and show signs of inbreeding and reduced genetic diversity (Jackson & Nowell 2008). Many of this population have also been cross-bred with other subspecies of tiger, and do not carry the pure genetics of the South China tiger.
Population: 0 in the wild
IUCN Red List Status: Extinct (Jackson & Nowell 2008)
Scientific Name: Panthera tigris sondaica
Home Range: Java Islands Indonesia, Borneo Island, and Palawan in Philippines
Habitat Type: Tropical broadleaf forests
Javan tigers were last recorded positively in Java’s Meru Betiri National Park in 1976. In the early 19th century, the Javan tiger was so abundant they were considered to be pests. They are believed to have disappeared from much of the island by the 1940’s. Causes of extinction include hunting, loss of forest habitat, and loss of prey base. There are also no Javan tigers left in captivity. During the second world war, zoos that kept Javan tigers in captivity had shut down. Their natural habitat had also become extremely fragmented due to the war, and the natural forests were slashed for plantations of coffee, rubber, and teak. From 1993-94 the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia conducted a survey of the Meru Betiri National Park and failed to find any concrete evidence that the subspecies still exists.
Population: ~ 0
IUCN Red List Status: Extinct
Scientific Name: Panthera tigris virgata
Home Range: West Turkey, South Iran of the Caspian Sea, and west through Central Asia into the Takia Makan desert of Zinjiang, China (Jackson & Nowell 2011)
Habitat Type: Forests and riverine corridors, desert forests The Caspian tiger was considered to be one of the largest felines to ever inhabit Earth. It was officially declared extinct in 2003 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and there are none of them in existence in captivity. With a restricted home range being held within watercourses and desert, the reason for extinction was due to several factors (Jackson & Nowell 2011). They were ruthlessly killed in large numbers by Russian armies who cleared predators from agricultural land. Population growth and deforestation lessened the natural prey abundance. All of these factors led to the subspecies extinction, with the last recorded sighting occurring in the early 1970’s.
IUCN Red List Status: Extinct
Scientific Name: Panthera tigris balica
Weight: 145-250 pounds
Home Range: Indonesian island of Bali
Habitat Type: Forests of Bali
The Bali tiger subspecies was the smallest of all Panthera tigris, and were also the first to be recorded as extinct. Last positively recorded in the 1930’s according to the IUCN (Jackson & Nowell 2008), the subspecies was predicted to have been extinct by the end of WWII. The cause of extinction includes hunting, habitat loss, and fragmentation, as well as loss of prey base. There are also no Bali tigers left in captivity. The Bali tiger has not been filmed alive in the wild or at a zoo, and there are few museums that have their body parts across the world. The British Museum in London has three skulls, two skins, and is the largest collection in the world.
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