Tigers are the largest species of the cat family. Male tigers are generally about 8 to 10 ft (2.4-3 m) long, including the 3-ft (1.8-m) tail. The Siberian tiger may be 13 ft (4 m) long, including the tail, and weigh 650 lb (290 kg), much larger than any lion. The coat of the tiger is orange-yellow with numerous prominent black stripes; black and albino specimens are sometimes found. The Siberian tiger tends to be the lightest in coloring. The male tiger has no mane comparable to that of a lion, although it may have a ruff around the sides of the head. Tigers and lions are quite similar anatomically and can be interbred.
Tigers are solitary animals and usually hunt at night. A male tiger will have a large range that will overlap with the ranges of several females. Females give birth to two or three cubs, which they raise and train for about two years. Tigers kill a variety of animals, including deer, antelope, wild pigs, and cattle. Tigers try to remain out of sight and hearing of their enemies, especially humans; they prefer fleeing to fighting. They can be killed by wild dogs, elephants, and water buffalos. Man-eating tigers are usually individuals who are too old or sick to capture wild animals. Tigers are good swimmers and enjoy bathing, especially in hot weather, which appears to make them quite uncomfortable. They are poor climbers, taking to trees only in emergencies.
The tiger is an endangered species. Trophy hunting of tigers was a common "sport" in the past, especially during the time of the Raj in India, when tens of thousands of Bengal tigers were shot. The greatest threats to the tiger now, however, are loss of natural habitat, loss of prey species such as deer and wild cattle to hunting by humans, and poaching. Tiger bone is used in traditional Chinese medicines to treat a variety of ailments, including rheumatism and impotence, and its sale and use continue despite a ban imposed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1976.
Three tiger subspecies, the Caspian, Javan, and Balinese tigers, are extinct; the South China tiger is very near extinction. According to 1995 population estimates, the Bengal tiger is believed to be the most numerous, with a population of 4,000. It is followed by the Indochinese tiger (1,100), the Sumatran tiger (400), and the Siberian tiger (250). Some population rebounds have been noted since then, however, in eastern Siberia, Nepal, and some parts of India owing to increased conservation efforts, but more recently the Bengal tiger population in India has suffered from serious poaching for the Chinese medicinal and animal skin markets, and some experts believe its population to number less than half the 1995 estimate. Captive breeding programs for tigers have met with considerable success but are plagued by a lack of space and the problem of maintaining genetic purity between subspecies that are defined more by range than by biological differences.
Tigers are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Carnivora, family Felidae.
Highly adaptable, tigers range from the Siberian taiga, to open grasslands, to tropical mangrove swamps. They are territorial and generally solitary animals, often requiring large contiguous areas of habitat that support their prey demands. This, coupled with the fact that they are endemic to some of the more densely populated places on earth, has caused significant conflicts with humans. Of the nine subspecies of modern tiger, three are extinct and the remaining six are classified as endangered, some critically so. The primary direct causes are habitat destruction and fragmentation, and hunting. Their historical range, which once reached from Mesopotamia and the Caucasus through most of South and East Asia, has been radically reduced. While all surviving species are under formal protection, poaching, habitat destruction and inbreeding depression continue to be threats.
Nonetheless, tigers are among the most recognizable and popular of the world's charismatic megafauna. They have featured prominently in ancient mythology and folklore, and continue to be depicted in modern films and literature. Tigers appear on many flags and coats of arms, as mascots for sporting teams, and as the national animal of several Asian nations.
A group of tigers is rare (see below), but when seen together is termed a 'streak' or an 'ambush'.
In the historical past tigers were widespread in Asia, from the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea, to Siberia and Indonesia. During the 19th century the striped cats completely vanished from western Asia, and became restricted to isolated pockets in the remaining parts of their range. Today, this fragmented relic range extends from India in the west to China and Southeast Asia in the east. The northern limit is close to the Amur River in south eastern Siberia. The only large island inhabited by tigers today is Sumatra. Tigers vanished from Java during the second half of the 19th century, and in Borneo are known only from fossil remains.
Tigers first reached India and northern Asia in the late Pleistocene, reaching eastern Beringia (but not the American Continent), and Japan, and Sakhalin. Fossils found in Japan indicate that the local tigers were, like the surviving island subspecies, smaller than the mainland forms. This may be due to the phenomenon in which body size is related to environmental space (see insular dwarfism), or perhaps the availability of prey. Until the Holocene, tigers also lived in Borneo.
Today, tigers are perhaps the most recognisable of all the cats (with the possible exception of the lion). They typically have rusty-reddish to brown-rusty coats, a whitish medial and ventral area, a white "fringe" that surrounds the face, and stripes that vary from brown or gray to pure black. The form and density of stripes differs between subspecies (as well as the ground coloration of the fur; for instance, Siberian tigers are usually paler than other tiger subspecies), but most tigers have over 100 stripes. 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 help tigers conceal themselves amongst the dappled shadows and long grass of their environment as they stalk their prey. The stripe pattern is found on a tiger's skin and if shaved, its distinctive camouflage pattern would be preserved. Like other big cats, tigers have a white spot on the backs of their ears.
Tigers have the additional distinction of being the heaviest cats found in the wild. However, the subspecies differ markedly in size, tending to increase proportionally with latitude, as predicted by Bergmann's Rule. Thus, large male Siberian Tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) can reach a total length of 3.5 m and a weight of 306 kilograms, which is considerably larger than the sizes reached by island-dwelling tigers such as the Sumatran, the smallest living subspecies with a body weight of only 75-140 kg. Tigresses are smaller than the males in each subspecies, although the size difference between male and female tigers tends to be more pronounced in the larger subspecies of tiger, with males weighing up to 1.7 times as much as the females. In addition, male tigers have wider forepaw pads than females. This difference is often used by biologists in determining the gender of tigers when observing their tracks.
There are nine recent subspecies of tiger, three of which are extinct. Their historical range (severely diminished today) ran through Bangladesh, Siberia, Iran, Afghanistan, India, China, and southeast Asia, including some Indonesian islands. The surviving subspecies, in descending order of wild population, are:
Hybridization among the big cats, including the tiger, was first conceptualized 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 and tigons. 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 to 12 feet in length, and can be between 800 and 1,000 pounds or more.
The less common tigon is a cross between the lioness and the male tiger.
There is a well-known mutation that produces the white tiger, technically known as chinchilla albinistic, 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 and scoliosis (curvature of the spine). Furthermore, white tigers are prone to having crossed eyes (a condition known as strabismus). Even apparently healthy white tigers generally do not live as long as their orange counterparts.
Recordings 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 that have been observed in the wild have been Bengal tigers (and all white tigers in captivity are at least part Bengal), it is commonly thought that the recessive gene that causes the white colouring is probably carried only by Bengal tigers, although the reasons for this are not known. Nor are they in any way more endangered than tigers are generally, this being a common misconception. Another misconception is that white tigers are albinos, despite the fact that pigment is evident in the white tiger's stripes. They are distinct not only because of their white hue; they also have blue eyes and pink noses.
In addition, another recessive gene may create a very unusual "golden tabby" colour variation, sometimes known as "strawberry". Golden tabby tigers have light gold fur, pale legs and faint orange stripes. Their fur tends to be much thicker than normal. There are extremely few golden tabby tigers in captivity, around 30 in all. Like white tigers, strawberry tigers are invariably at least part Bengal. Both white and golden tabby tigers tend to be larger than average Bengal tigers.
Male tigers can mingle easily with females in their territories, and will even share kills. George Schaller observed a male tiger share a kill with two females and four cubs. Females are often reluctant to let males near their cubs, but Schaller saw that these females made no effort to protect or keep their cubs from the male. This suggests that the male might have been the father of the cubs. In contrast to male lions, male tigers will allow the females and cubs to feed on the kill first. Females will also share kills, even more so than the males. They are also much more tolerant of sharing kills with individuals of the same sex.
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. This method was found faulty and attempts were made to use camera trapping 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 wild.
Adult elephants are too large to serve as common prey, but conflicts between tigers and elephants do sometimes take place. A case where a tiger killed an adult Indian Rhinoceros has been observed. Young elephant and rhino calves are occasionally taken. Tigers also sometimes prey on domestic animals such as dogs, cows, horses, and donkeys. These individuals are termed cattle-lifters or cattle-killers in contrast to typical game-killers.
Old tigers, or those wounded and rendered incapable of catching their natural prey, have turned into man-eaters; this pattern has recurred frequently across India. An exceptional case is that of the Sundarbans, where healthy tigers prey upon fishermen and villagers in search of forest produce, humans thereby forming a minor part of the Tiger's diet.
Tigers usually hunt at night. They generally hunt alone and ambush their prey as most other cats do, overpowering them from any angle, using their body size and strength to knock large prey off balance. Even with their great masses, tigers can reach speeds of about 49-65 kilometres per hour (35-40 miles per hour), although they can only do so in short bursts; consequently, tigers must be relatively close to their prey before they break their cover. In addition, tigers can leap as high as 5 m (16 ft) and as far as 9–10 m (30–33 ft), making them one of the highest-jumping mammals, just slightly behind cougars in ability. They have been reported to carry domestic livestock weighing 50 kg (110 lb) while easily jumping over fences 2 m (6 ft 6 in) high. Even so, only one in twenty hunts ends in a successful kill.
When hunting large prey, tigers prefer to bite the throat and use their muscled forelimbs to hold onto the prey, bringing it to the ground. Their heavily muscled forelimbs are used to hold tightly onto the prey and to avoid being dislodged. The tiger remains latched onto the neck until its prey dies of strangulation. By this method, gaurs and water buffalos weighing over a ton have been killed by tigers weighing about a sixth as much. With small prey, the tiger bites the nape, often breaking the spinal cord, piercing the windpipe, or severing the jugular vein or common carotid artery. Though rarely observed, some tigers have been recorded to kill prey by swiping with their paws, which are powerful enough to smash the skulls of domestic cattle, and break the backs of sloth bears.
Poaching for fur and destruction of habitat have greatly reduced tiger populations in the wild. A century ago, it is estimated there were over 100,000 tigers in the world but the population has dwindled to between 7,000 and 5,000 tigers. Some estimates suggest the population is even lower, with some at less than 2,500 mature breeding individuals, with no subpopulation containing more than 250 mature breeding individuals. The threat of extinction is mitigated somewhat by the presence of some 20,000 tigers currently in captivity, although parts of the captive population, such as the 4-5,000 animals in China's commercial tiger farms, are of low genetic diversity.
A tiger census carried out over 2007, whose report was published on February 12, 2008 stated that the wild tiger population in India has come down to approximately 1,411. It is noted in the report that the decrease of tiger population can be attributed directly to poaching.
China will conduct the work of surveying land, restoring habitat and prey within the pilot reserve.
Although humans are not regular prey for tigers, they have killed more people than any other cat, particularly in areas where population growth, logging, and farming have put pressure on tiger habitats. Most man-eating tigers are old and missing teeth, acquiring a taste for humans because of their inability to capture preferred prey. Almost all tigers that are identified as man-eaters are quickly captured, shot, or poisoned. Unlike man-eating leopards, even established man-eating tigers will seldom enter human settlements, usually remaining at village outskirts. Nevertheless, attacks in human villages do occur. Man-eaters have been a particular problem in India and Bangladesh, especially in Kumaon, Garhwal and the Sundarbans mangrove swamps of Bengal, where some healthy tigers have been known to hunt humans.
Many people in China have a belief that various tiger parts have medicinal properties, including as pain killers and aphrodisiacs. There is no scientific evidence to support these beliefs. The use of tiger parts in pharmaceutical drugs in China is already banned, and the government has made some offenses in connection with tiger poaching punishable by death. Furthermore, all trade in tiger parts is illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and a domestic trade ban has been in place in China since 1993. Still, there are a number of tiger farms in the country specializing in breeding the cats for profit. It is estimated that between 4,000 and 5,000 captive-bred, semi-tame animals live in these farms today.
Part of the reason for America's enormous tiger population relates to legislation. Only nineteen states have banned private ownership of tigers, fifteen require only a licence, and sixteen states have no regulations at all.
The success of breeding programmes at American zoos and circuses led to an overabundance of cubs in the 1980s and 1990s, which drove down prices for the animals. The SPCA estimate there are now 500 lions, tigers and other big cats in private ownership just in the Houston area.
In the 1983 film Scarface, the protagonist, Tony Montana, aspires to obtaining all the exterior trappings of the American Dream, which in the character's opinion included keeping a pet tiger on his property
Of great importance in Chinese myth and culture, the tiger is one of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals. Also in various Chinese art and martial art, the tiger is depicted as an earth symbol and equal rival of the Chinese dragon- the two representing matter and spirit respectively. In fact, the Southern Chinese martial art Hung Ga is based on the movements of the Tiger and the Crane. In Imperial China, a tiger was the personification of war and often represented the highest army general (or present day defense secretary), while the emperor and empress were represented by a dragon and phoenix, respectively. The White Tiger is one of the Four Symbols of the Chinese constellations. It is sometimes called the White Tiger of the West (西方白虎), and it represents the west and the autumn season.
In Buddhism, it is also one of the Three Senseless Creatures, symbolizing anger, with the monkey representing greed and the deer lovesickness.
The Tungusic people considered the Siberian tiger a near-deity and often referred to it as "Grandfather" or "Old man". The Udege and Nanai called it "Amba". The Manchu considered the Siberian tiger as Hu Lin, the king.
The widely worshiped Hindu goddess Durga, an aspect of Devi-Parvati, is a ten-armed warrior who rides the tigress (or lioness) Damon into battle. In southern India the god Aiyappa was associated with a tiger.
The tiger continues to be a subject in literature; both Rudyard Kipling, in The Jungle Book, and William Blake, in Songs of Experience, depict the tiger as a menacing and fearful animal. In The Jungle Book, the tiger, Shere Khan, is the wicked mortal enemy of the protagonist, Mowgli. However, other depictions are more benign: Tigger, the tiger from A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh stories, is cuddly and likable. In the Man Booker Prize winning novel "Life of Pi," the protagonist, Pi Patel, sole human survivor of a ship wreck in the Pacific Ocean, befriends another survivor: a large Bengal Tiger. The famous comic strip Calvin and Hobbes features Calvin and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes. A tiger is also featured on the cover of the popular cereal Frosted Flakes (also marketed as "Frosties") bearing the name "Tony the Tiger".
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.