Oct 2009. The tiger is probably the world’s best known and admired wild animal. We admire its courage and strength but we fear it. Our fear has jeopardized its survival because we kill it and sometimes eat it. Can we change? Yes, if as a living animal we benefit sufficiently from it commercially. That is the only way for the human race, it seems. We cannot cohabit with it.
Its appearance is dramatic to the point where we wonder how it can be beneficial in terms of camouflage. In a forest during twilight hours it is wonderfully effective.
This is a header page that binds various posts that I have made about the tiger, to which I have linked. It is also comprehensive in its own right.
There are about 3,200 tigers in the wild16. There are 9 subspecies of tiger1 possibly 8, three of which are extinct and the remainder are endangered. Some experts say that all tigers originate from the South China tiger5|1. However, others say that they all stem from the Siberian tiger, which migrated south and west over 100,000 years ago due to the last ice age. They established populations of tigers that evolved under the differing environments into distinctly different animals at a DNA level. Most tigers became smaller in size. The farthest west they travelled was to the Caspian Sea (to found a now extinct subspecies, the Caspian tiger, that probably never was, in fact) and as far south as the island of Bali3. From this taxonomists are able to divide the tiger into species although the classification of all species (taxonomy) is constantly under review. Click the link for the ancient history of the big cats.
It could be argued that all tigers are heading towards extinction in the wild unless things change. The future of the tiger is as a captive animal and we had better get used to it, some experts would argue.
Perhaps the species that we know best is the Bengal tiger, which lives in India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. Then we have the Siberian tiger (Amur tiger), said to be the largest tiger. The population size of this cat is precarious but apparently stable at about 330-371 adult/sub-adult1 tigers, it is thought, but the effective population in terms of procreation is much smaller than the actual population size at about 358. I discuss this further below. This cat now lives primarly in Russia straddling the city of Vladivostok on the far east coastal region. The Sumatran tiger is also endangered (critically). It is a forest dweller on the island of Sumatra. The other subspecies are: South China tiger (Update Nov. 21 2010: South China Tiger Is Extinct), Indochinese tiger (a part of this tiger’s population has been assessed as a different species, the Malayan tiger, but this is not necessarily commonly accepted), Bali tiger (“likely” extinct in the 1940s1), Javan tiger (extinct 1970s?1), Caspian tiger (extinct).
As a subject the tiger is big and important so this page is very big. It has to be.There are over four hundred thousand2 web pages on this animal on the internet at Nov. 2009. In order to get the page noticed it has to be complete. But where do we start when discussing this wild cat? We have to prioritise. In everyone of the 400 thousand pages on the internet about this wild cat there is almost certainly a description of the animal yet it is the most well known animal after the human in the world. A description is not therefore a top priority particularly when the very survival of this animal is in jeopardy in the wild. Accordingly, the top priority is its status in the wild because it is endangered. It’s survival is threatened. And we don’t want to lose the tiger in the wild, which is the way things are heading. So after setting out the various subspecies referred to above, I start properly with the threats to this magnificent animal and the attempts at its conservation. Next I discuss this cat’s lifestyle in some detail and that includes its ecology and behavior, its distribution and its reproduction. Oh, and finally its appearance..
I have mentioned them above. Their scientific names are as below. The links go to pages on the individual subspecies:
Panthera tigris ssp. altaica – Siberian or Amur tiger – see Siberian tiger habitat
Panthera tigris ssp. amoyensis – South China tiger
Panthera tigris ssp. balica – Bali Tiger
Panthera tigris ssp.corbetti – Indochinese Tiger
Panthera tigris ssp. jacksoni (after Peter Jackson) (Malaysia calls the tiger: Panthera tigris malayensis after the region) – Malayan tiger
Panthera tigris ssp. sondaica – Javan tiger – the most recent tiger subspecies to become extinct. People still claim to see it but are they getting mixed up with the leopard? This tiger is small. It is still feared. And if it still exists it is very unlikely to survive.
Panthera tigris ssp. sumatrae – Sumatran tiger – the differences in this tiger in respect of DNA and morphology are such that it has been proposed that it should be a distinct species1.
Panthera tigris ssp. tigris – Bengal tiger (new window) – see Bengal tiger habitat – this is the first recognised subspecies7.
Panthera tigris ssp. virgata – Caspian tiger (Hyrcanian Tiger, Turan Tiger). It has been decided that this is not subspecies. Differences were due to clinal variation.
Most of the hard to spot (to the layperson) variations amongst tigers such as size, skull shape etc. are not “strongly associated with subspecies”7. The variations are continous across the geographic range of the tiger (clinal variation). Only three contemporary populations have been isolated to allow the development of distinct populations.
The white tiger is not considered a subspecies. The white or colour diluted coat is the result of a genetic mutation. Interestingly in the domestic cat world of the cat fancy (a group of people who breed and show cats) a genetic mutation of almost any type has been siezed upon as a chance to create a completely different breed of cat. Of course a breed is not a species or even a subspecies. See:
The South China tiger is almost a paradigm case of the destruction of the tiger generally. It is not only the wild South China tiger that has been destroyed; the management of captive tigers has been of such poor quality that at 2005 only 57 existed and they were inbreed and not purebred! Read more: South China tiger. Now extinct – Nov. 2010.
There would seem to be very little visual difference between the various subspecies but size is one noticeable variable if a visual comparison can be made (which it actually can’t or very rarely can). See a description of the Siberian tiger.
|Tiger Species||Weights lbs (Wikipedia®)|
|Indochinese (and Malayan)||Average male 420|
|Siberian||Males: 419 to 675|
|Bengal||Average male 488|
|South China||Males about 330|
|Javan||Males 220 – 310|
As mentioned, three subspecies are extinct – Bali, Javan, Caspian. This topic is all about conflict with humans and persecution by humans. In fact all the treats to the wildcats whatever the size or location are related to conflict and persecution with and by humans indirectly or indirectly and in one form or another. For decades the poachers have been better organised and motivated than the gamekeepers (the conservationists). And that state of affairs reflects the world view on the tiger at 2009. And as the tiger becomes scarcer its value rises, which makes it more desirable to kill it. Is there a tipping point?
The tiger has an image as a virile and courageous hunter based on human standards. Cats also are very efficient procreators and are very althetic. They are excellent fighters. Combine all these and people admire the tiger and want a piece of it to try and take from it some of these skills and powers. And when I say take a piece of it I say eat it (tiger bone is very valuable -see for table below7 12). And therein lies its demise. The tiger is the world’s top predator except for the human. And the human is frankly in a different league. This is leading to its extirpation in the wild. Poaching in India’s tiger reserves is high and for these prices you can understand why.
|Tiger Product||Price $ USD per Kg||Place||Date|
|Bone||up to 300||Russia||2002|
|Bone||140-370||South Korea, Taiwan||2009|
|Humerus bone||up to 3190||Seoul||2009|
And on the islands of Bali, Java and Sumatra it would seem fair comment to say that the tiger simply gets or got ( for Bali and Java where it is extinct) in the way of human activity. It is still a nuisance in Sumatra and it is given little respect. There is little doubt that the people of these islands (taken as a whole) do not want the tiger in their backyard. It is seen as a danger. Why have something dangerous wandering around the island, a relatively small space?
The status per the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ (Red List) as at 2009 for these subspecies of tiger is as follows:
|Status – 2009|
|Siberian, Bengal, Malayan, Indochinese,|
|Sumatran, South China|
|Caspian, Javan, Bali,|
It is expected that if the current decline in tiger populations continues it will become ecologically extinct in 20 years (no longer able to be the top predator)13.
I have already mentioned that three of the eight (possibly 9) subspecies are extinct (Update Dec 2010: Now four subspecies are extinct). The South China tiger is almost certainly extinct in the wild (Update Dec. 2010: Now extinct). The Siberian tiger population is precarious especially in terms of breeding (the effective breeding population is the equivalent of 35 individuals it is thought6). Its habitat in Russia (90% are in Russia1) is cut into two by industrialisation and human activity (Siberian tiger habitat). This is habitat fragmentation and it undermines genetic diversity and therefore survivability. Above is a chart7 8 on the Siberian tiger populations in Russia (as at 2007 there were 331-393 adult-subadult Amur tigers1) . This subspecies also occurs (or occured) in northeast China (and Korea?) but its primary or sole home is now Russia as none were recorded in 19877 in China. In 1998 a survey indicated that there were 4-6 tigers7 in China. The estimated number at 2007 (on a China government survey) was 18-221. What is the minimum viable population size? How does this impact inbreeding (new window)? And also please see: Inbreeding of Wildcats. Despite an increase in population over a long period it is still inordinately low. In addition to habitat loss the Siberian tiger has suffered from prey base loss, poaching and human/tiger conflict (see below for more on that).
In the early years the attitude towards the tiger was that it was a creature to be killed for sport or as a nuisance (see tiger hunt extract from 1815 below right). We have come to realise that the tiger is an asset to the world. The Bengal tiger lives largely on reserves in India and Bangladesh and is gradually losing the battle for survival in the wild, with a precarious population of about 1,400 – see Tiger Population in India. The threats to survival are what I would call the “usual suspects” all generated by human activity. Perhaps top of the list is poaching for body parts (penis is worth $6,00010) to supply Chinese pharmacies. This is compounded by inadequate policing of the reserves (unfair?). Are the reserves too small to sustain viable populations of tiger? Historically habitat loss and fragmentation has also been a major factor in population decline. This is stabilising as the tigers now live in reserves that should remain the same size (but it is said that 60+% of Bengal tigers live outside reserves7). Bengal tigers are still poisoned and I say corruption and mismanagement plays a role in the demise of the supposedly protected Bengal tiger. Forcing tiger and human together results in injury and loss to both parties and then some people start calling the tiger a man eater. People can kill a tiger in self defence but is the law sound (The Wildlife Protection Act 1972)? The Sundarbans in Bangladesh is an area where a high level of tiger attacks take place.
|Population in India of Bengal tiger|
|1900||20,000 – 40,000 in Bengal tigers|
|1960||4,000 (due to habitat destruction and hunting – in those days tigers were routinely hunted). The rarity of the Bengal tiger made hunting more desirable and so the destruction continued.|
|1969||Est. 2,000 – Project Tiger instigated to save the tiger. Reserves set up.|
|1991||Estimated 9,000 Bengal tigers, a healthy rise in numbers, but there were doubts about these numbers.|
|2009||1,400 Bengal tigers extant. This is official. Project Tiger has failed hasn’t it? (source for this table: 7)|
In the early 1900s the Sumatran tiger was considered a pest as it was so common; the population being large. This is similar to the attitude towards the South China tiger until very recently. The Sumatran tiger was killed for reward in those days. It would seem that it is still treated with disrespect and as a menace, which results in a less than committed conservation. There probably is simply not enough space on the island for people to share it with tigers.
Nowadays it is just killed as a result of neglect and apathy as its forest habitat is destroyed by Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) a large company with a dubious history (habitat loss is at 3.2-5.9% per year1). It is also poached despite being protected by the Indonesian government since 19727. But the government is killing this tiger by allowing the forest to be destroyed for paper. There was only 3% of forest left at 19897. See Sumatran tiger and Deforestation in Indonesia (new window). The reserves are too small for tigers7. The population is estimated at 441-679 (2009) and its habitat covers 51,944 km²1. However, in terms of its breeding ability it behaves as if the population is 176 – 2711 (40% of the total actual population). Is this a viable number in the long term?
|Cause of Death 1988-20021||Percentage|
|Trade in body parts||76|
South China tiger
The fact that this tiger is probably extinct almost makes a discussion about threats to survival pointless (Update Nov 21 2010 – now extinct and all in captivity are not purebred). If there are a very low number left the population is probably unviable anyway. China likes to turn tiger bone to wine etc. The tiger was considered a nuisance. Nowadays they have captive tigers aplenty in tiger farms ostensibly for conservation but it said that they are tiger body part factories10 and that they undermine conservation by muddying the picture.
This tiger’s status in terms of threats to survival is little known because “it status is poorly known” (in comparison to other tigers). There are no population estimates from Laos for example1. But suffice to say that the usual suspects apply such as habitat loss (Thailand’s lowland forest has been susbtantially destroyed7) and fragmentation (low populations of tigers enclosed in isolated patches of remaining forest7), poaching for commercial sale of body parts, prey base loss and conflicts between humans and tiger. There were an estimated 250 tigers in Thailand at 1991 with an estimated 150 of those being breeding tigers7.
Decline and leveling off of Malayan tiger:
|Population of Malayan Tiger|
|2000||Around 500 (legislation to protect tiger introduced in 1972)|
The status of the tiger is Asia is precarious and it is no different on the Malaysian peninsula. In the 1950s they were plentiful and treated as a nuisance. Being no more precious than a rat they were killed promptly. See the table right for some figures7. There appears to be some good news. The Malaysian government (at Nov. 2009) intends to better protect the tiger in their country and double numbers – let’s see.
Another grave situation is that even the captive tigers are endangered. There are 12,000 tigers in captivity and about 4,000 wild tigers. This is because they are inbreed. The Siberian and South China tiger come to mind but it applies to all captive tigers. This creates a cat with a weak constitution. And many of the tigers in captivity are simply not the species of tiger that it is stated to be. It will be a cross breed of some sort. That technically means the various subspecies of tiger in captivity have merged to a large extent. In order to prevent inbreeding it would seem outcrossing is necessary. This indicates that it is not viable to keep the tiger in captivity, doesn’t it? As we are heading towards captive tigers as the only tiger remaining this is an unhappy state of affairs. I must also mention the tiger farms in China. There are 4,000+ tigers in tiger farms5. These are ostensibly for conservation but it is believed that they are more about creating a supply of tiger parts for popular tiger products. See tiger farms for more.
Human Conflict with the tiger7
Tigers will kill any animal that is in a vulnerable position7. They kill animals much larger than themselves. And they sometimes kill people. The Bengal tiger of the Sundarbans (in Bangladesh) is where most people are attacked by tigers. My reading indicates that tigers do not treat humans as a first choice as prey, quite the contrary. Their attacks on people are usually the last resort of a starving, old or injured tiger (90% of the time because of injury to the tiger11). The same applies of course to all the large wildcats (see Man Eating Leopard). When you consider the potential for tiger attacks the relative scarcity of them supports what I have said. In fact tigers tend to avoid people. They would appear to recognise that we are dangerous to them. Tigers are reluctant to attack unless provoked (after a warning roar and rush from the tiger when for instance protecting young or a kill).
But the conflict between tiger and human is a crucial part of the threat/conservation process. Research has apparently not come up with a clean and readily understandable answer7. But in the Sundarbans an estimated 100-150 people are killed by tigers annually and the vast majority are fishermen (the Sundarbans is swampy delta region). As a tiger attack leads to killing the tiger, preventing attacks conserves the tiger. One clever method was to provide masks for people working in the area. The masks were a face made of rubber. It was worn on the back of the head. Tigers usually attack from behind. The mask meant that no one presented their back to the tiger and attacks declined dramatically. This was instigated in 1987. I don’t know if it is still in force.
The classic scenario of a man eater is that the tiger becomes injured. This may typically occur when a male is seeking a home range having left the natal area. The young tiger may come into conflict with a male with an established home range. A wound received in a fight can leave the tiger unable to kill wild prey so softer targets are sought such as livestock and people (who are likely to be around if the tiger is killing livestock). Other injuries can come from gunshots (this is an example of human indirectly killing another human if this forces the tiger to become a man-eater).
Another example of people indirectly killing other people through the tiger is by habitat loss. Human activity erodes the habitat of tigers. Tigers like other wild cats need a home range, an area that is theirs. We see this in the domestic cat. Where competition for home ranges is fierce due to scarcity of space a male tiger may become “homeless” and wander. This forces them into “marginal areas” within their overall range and into contact with people and livestock where man-eating can begin. This would apply to healthy as well as injuried tigers.
Interestingly, the humble porcupine may be responsible for creating some man-eating tigers. The quills can cause debilitating injuries.
Under this heading, in respect of conservation it is appropriate to ball all the tiger subspecies together as on paper they all have the maximum protection that humankind can afford them. In practice the protection does not translate to anything like the kind of protection that is sufficient because populations continue to decline when all the subspecies are combined. Please note: all the wild cats listed on the wild cat species page contain fairly detailed information about conservation and threats. This page is more an overview.
Conservation can be discussed under several headings:
- CITES Listings – see CITES in relation to cats.
- IUCN Red List listings that guide conservationists – see IUCN Red List for Cats.
- Reserves (national parks etc. that are designed to preserve the habitat and prey base) – see for example the parks of India where the Bengal tiger exclusively (?) lives. And please see Indian Tiger Reserves – not all is well. Science predicts that most tigers will not survive in reserves14.
- Legislation – see Cats and the Law
- What I call clever conservation – lateral thinking projects. I don’t usually see any clever conservation in relation to the tiger (sometimes the oppoite seems to be the case) but the people concerned with protecting the snow leopard are doing good things. But one form of conservation for the tiger is unusual and creative – see the para on Human/Tiger conflict above.
- The products market – much more needs to be done to stop the demand for tiger products. We see this rarely tackled. Stop demand and you save the tiger. Another measure would be to substitute tiger products with more effective man made products. Why is this not being done?
CITES stands for Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. All tigers are listed under CITES Appendix I. This means that they are the most endangered of the species listed by CITES, which prohibits international commerical trade in these species or parts of them. Importation can take place only under specific and exceptional cases and when authorised. Unfortunately, this convention is hard to enforce locally or there has been a reluctance by local authorities to enforce it for various reasons. Better enforcement is needed1. Also a convention is not international law. It cannot be enforced internationally. CITES therefore, although useful, has limited benefits.
The Red List is another worthy concept and organisation but for me they simply record the demise of the tiger. If a government wants to ignore the status of a species and the warning signs, it can and will and they seem to do just that. The Red List sometimes simply states that more research work is required as not enough is known (for example the Indochinese tiger in Laos). Then probably nothing happens.
There are no international laws governing the protection of the tiger. I think there should be because the tiger today in particular belongs to the world and not to individual countries. Although organisations such as the World Bank work at an international level on tiger conservation. Save The Tiger Fund is also cross-governmental and has provided substantial funds.
The Sunquists say that novel methods need to be implemented such as devising a way for tigers to live in the same areas as people rather than shunting them off into reserves. It is fair to say that reserves do not seem to be that successful. They are arguably poorly managed and sometimes too small it could be argued (see Indian Bengal Tiger Reserves). Although even small reserves can support a good tiger population provided the prey base is high. 58 principal prey can support 16.8 tigers per 100 km²7. Small reserves of 300+ km² can support a tiger population that is viable it seems. Although there is conflicting information that says that all reserves are too small14.
Camera trap technology has advanced and is a useful tool to assess population sizes even when the population densities are very low.
Governments have sometimes provided substantial funding for conservation e.g. Project Tiger (new window) (Bengal tiger) but is Project Tiger a partial failure? The Save The Tiger Fund funded the production of work that sets out their view on how to conserve wild tigers for the period to 2005 – 201514. Here are a selection of conclusions from that work:
- Tiger habitat decreased by 40% over an 11 year period 1995 – 2006 (the date of the document new window)
- Tigers occupy 7% of their historical range
- Asian economic growth lends itself to tiger decline
- tiger landscapes are recommended (as opposed to isolated reserves). These are core areas linked by corridors. They say that tigers can only survive at the “landscape level”. The recommended complete package can be summarised in the chart opposite as I understand it.
- Please read the full document (new window). The chart opposite is not and cannot be the full report. Space on this page doesn’t allow that.
- I make the point on this page: Tiger Bone, that the trade in wild tiger parts is not sustainable and is therefore a bad business model. The best way to preserve the tiger is to fight on the commercial level as it is that which motivates.
In 2006 Sanderson and his team surveyed 77 biologists on the effectivess of the conservation measures where they work – the “Tiger Conservation Landscapes”. I have taken the top, middle and bottom three1:
|Education of local people|
Education of school children
Training of protected area staff
|Average effectiveness||Enforcement of existing laws regarding tigers|
Local publicity about tigers
Monitoring of prey populations
|Least effective||Habitat enhancement|
Captive breeding facility
Reintroduction of tigers
Update Dec. 2010: A group of dedicated scientists believe that the foothills of the Himalayas in Bhutan may hold the key to the tiger’s survival in the wild as it joins up a long corridor of tiger reserves. See The Tigers of Bhutan.
I feel that a written description of the tiger has little usefulness as the photographs tell the story better and in any case this is a very well known animal. That said a brief overview is appropriate with some links to more. In fact I made a page on the appearance of the Siberian tiger which also contains a slide show. As it is said that all tigers originate in the Siberian tiger3 this is appropriate. If you don’t want to go to that page the short information video is on the right.
The Sunquists say that the tiger is the only striped cat. They mean wild cat because the mackerel tabby (new window) and Togyer are stripped cats. Lots has been said about the weight of the tiger but reliable weights of wildcats are difficult to find7. What is certain is that the weights of the subspecies various and as you go south the weights are less as the chart above indicates. This is due to prey size. In Java a smallish deer (sambar deer – is this deer smaller on Java?) was the principle prey while Siberian tigers prey on larger animals such as the red deer and moose. The Indonesian tigers (Bali – extinct, Java – extinct and Sumatra) were or are darker too7. The fur is also understandably shorter and less dense as the climate is considerably warmer.
Officially the tiger’s background color is reddish orange to ocherous7 (the color of ocher; esp., dark yellow15). The underparts and inside of the limbs, throat, chest, muzzle and around and above the eyes are white creating a very high contrast coat. There is the usual white “ocelli” on the back of the ear flap. The tiger has the very recognisable dark vertical stripes on the flanks and shoulders. They vary in width and spacing and each, like a finger print is unique allowing researchers to identify individual tigers from photographic records (see Tiger Patterns and Tiger Stripes).
The high contrast and colorful coat looks as if it is poor camouflage but in the dampled forest light it is perfect. There are meant to have been black tigers (melanistic tigers) and there are certainly white tigers (and see Snow tigers) and blue tigers. These colour variations are all due to genetic mutations and none are considered seperate species of tiger. There are three records of black tigers from the Mayanmar/NE India/Bangladesh area. There is no evidence in existence other than the recorded sighting. White tigers are common in captivity and either extremely rare or non-existent in the wild. They are inbred in captivity being the decendents of a single male Bengal tiger cub called Mohan captured in 1951 in Madhya Pradesh, India.
The tiger is very powerful and built to capture and hold on to large prey. Their forelimbs are noticeably more powerful than the hind limbs. They are fine climbers and swimmers. The Siberian and Bengal stand about one metre tall at the shoulder. The tallest domestic cat, MAGIC, a F1 savannah cat is 17.1 inches tall at the shoulder. One meter is 33 inches. The tiger is taller at the shoulder than at the rear. They are similar in size to the lion but at the end of the day, I say the tiger would win in a Lion vs Tiger fight (which cannot take place as their ranges are very far apart).
I have created several pages on the ranges of the tiger and indeed all the wildcats so I won’t go into great detail here but refer to those pages. Suffice to say that the range of the tiger has been on a continual downward path for about a century and a crisis point has been reached it seems. The tiger can no longer be forced into small reserves without further decline in population size. The tiger range is now so fragmented it is almost impossible to draw it. The Caspian tiger was not a subspecies and is extinct while the South China tiger as mentioned is all but extinct living in China (Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan, Jiangxi). The distribution of the other tigers is as follows.
|The Bengal tiger is now more or less confined to reserves (but it is said that 60+% of Bengal tigers live outside reserves7 – is this true in 2009?) of which most are in India (1400 tigers). But reserves are not protecting the tiger from being poached. The map below shows where the Bengal tigers are in India by region. This tiger is also found in Bangladesh (200-400), Nepal (350) and Bhutan (70)1. Bengal tiger habitat.|
The Siberian tiger is primarily confined to the far east of Russia and its habitat stradles Vladivostock, which divides its range together with a corridor of idustrialisation. It is also found in China (just – pop: 18-22 at 2009) & Korea (unsure). Please see this page: Siberian tiger habitat.
Indochinese tiger – Myanmar, Thailand, Lao PDR, Viet Nam and Cambodia1.
Sumatran, Java, Bali tigers. The last two are extinct as mentioned. Each lived or lives on its own island. The islands are marked on the map below. They form a chain. Please click the blue flags.
Caspian tiger – although extinct a map of its range has been attempted and it is as follows:
Malayan tiger – Malayan Peninsula.
The tiger is adaptable in terms of habitat and climate. The tiger is very athletic. It can climb well when needed and swim exceptionally well (by human standards) when required (2 miles in sea water – see Lion vs Tiger). What they need is water and large prey (ungulates – hooved animals) to survive. The best prey base in Asia is where there is a mosaic of forest and grassland7. The environment that suites the tiger also suites the leopard and the wild dog (dholes). A pack of wild dogs can kill a tiger7. But it can dispatch a leopard at will. The leopard steers clear of the tiger, accordingly, despite sharing the habitat with it. Where there is a reasonable tiger population the leopard population is reduced. In Siberia it is outgunned by the bear.
The scope of the tiger’s adaptability is evidenced in the width of the range. The Siberian tiger lives in an environment of coniferous and birch woods where there is snow and where temperatures fall to minus 30°C to minus 40°C. Snow can be a problem for a tiger both in terms of camouflage and stalking. Tigers avoid deep snow and icy snow can cut them. This is in contrast to the hot forests of Sumatra, where the Sumatran tiger lives. In Sumatra the tiger lives in ancient tropical lowland evergreen forest that is being cut down. It is also noisy making stalking difficult. Further south the Bengal tiger has adapted to living in swamps and sea water (Sundarbans, Bangladesh).
One predator that the tiger avoids is the human, which means it has become nocturnal. Given a free choice the tiger would hunt day or night and kill any animal that is vulnerable to it. Often hunting means travelling great distances by human standards. For example, males not uncommonly travel 30 kms per night in search of food. The search for food starts at sunset. Tiger have well worn routines (don’t domestic cats too) and will travel along the same routes to known hunting sites. A failure to catch prey means moving on as the tiger’s presence is often by then well advertised by the alarm calls of the deer.
As mentioned tigers are adaptable and although there are favorite prey species they will eat almost anything up to an elephant. But other top predators are not commonly attacked as prey for obvious reasons. Deer and wild pigs are the most common prey. The type of deer depends on the region. Typical deer species would be Sambar and Chittal (see photo). This preference for pigs and deer extends from India (Bengal tiger) to Russia (Siberian tiger – in Russia up 84% of all tiger kills are pigs or red deer7). In the south, say in Thailand the prey is smaller such as barking deer. The tiger does not select weak and/or old prey. Prey that is substantially larger than the tiger is also killed, e.g. water buffalo and gaur. In timespast people, for entertainment, thrust buffalo and tiger together in a cage. The buffalo always won. So this is dangerous prey. Tigers are killed by buffalo and bison.
Bison can between 500 and 1000 kgs (4-7 times a tiger’s weight).
The tiger is a wrestler rather than a runner. This dictates its hunting style. Tiger won’t run far (150 metres) but prefer a short burst high impact attack. Small animals are killed by a bite to the back of the neck severing the vetebra while larger prey is suffocated by biting the throat. The former method is employed by the domestic cat. Whiskers and teeth feel the spot on the spine of the prey to severe it.
Prey is hauled to a safe spot under cover before feeding. The tiger’s enormous strength comes into play here. There are some awesome stories. A tiger in Myanmar hauled a gaur weighing 770 kgs. Fourteen men couldn’t move it7. Up to about 27 kgs of killed prey is eaten in a night7.
Tigers like all cats are territorial. A dominant male’s home range (the area that the tiger considers his area of operation) will overlap or encompass the usually exclusive (not overlapping) ranges of a number female tigers provided there is a sufficient density of females which is dependent on the prey base. While a less successful male tiger will be lucky to have one female. The male range is therefore much larger than that of the female tiger. Males will compete for a females particularly if the female density is low. Fights lead to injuries. Fights occur more frequently when there is social instability for any reason:
|20 km² (average)||Female||India (Chitwan)|
|40 – 300 km²||Male||India|
|200 – 400 km²||Female||Siberia (Sikhote-Alin)|
|800 – 1000 km²||Male||Sibera (Sikhote-Alin)|
The Siberian tiger range is much larger due to a lower prey base, prey migration, climate and terrain. Tigers communicate vocally and through scent and marks (scrapes). Those of us who keep cats are all familiar with scent marks. Scent is sprayed onto objects. It is a musky liquid sometimes mixed with urine. Scent is also on feces from the anal glands. Rubbing objects with the head and cheeks also deposits scent on objects. Scrapes are made by scratching the ground. Feces are deposited. One advantage of communicating by scent is that the time the tiger was were the scent it can be gauged by the intensity of the scent. This helps avoid conflict. Scent markers are placed along important routes and boundaries of the home range of the tiger and reinforced regularly (every 3 weeks7). Scent marking is more intense when a young tiger is establishing a territory. Scent is not only used to avoid each other but to bring each other together for mating. The functions of scent marking are not fully understood by us and include much more than mentioned here due to space limitations and load times. Vocalisations are also used to communicate. We are familiar with the tiger roar. Sounds made close range are accompanied by body language. Other tiger sounds are, main call, prusten, growl, snarl, hiss, grunt, moan, meow, spit:
|coughing snarl||before attack|
|pooking||tell others of its presence|
|moan||made when walking along with head down|
|prusten||friendly sound – greeting|
Tigers also communicate with their markings. For example the white spot on the back of the ear flap (ocelli) gives a signal to opponents to beware as it becomes visible from the front when the ears are flattened (to protect them) prior to a fight. Most domestic cats flatten the ears in the same way but have lost the spots. Wild cat hybrid domestic cats retain them.
The development of the tiger7 is about a timetable. Things happen at a certain time. Accordingly, I have set out this section in a table for ease of reference. Male tigers have a tough time of it. Where there is a good prey base the tigress is likely to be pregnant or have young to feed as is therefore unavailable. A tigress will scent mark to draw in a male tiger for mating. More than one can arrive resulting in potential conflict. During estrus the tigress will call more and roll and rub and behave provocatively and aggressively. She will spit at the male and strike him. The male is passive as his objective is to mate not fight. The tigress softens and lets the male advance. She kisses him with a gentle bite. After copulation during which the male bites the scruff of the female’s neck to protect himself she boxes him but there is less aggression if she knows him. Tigers mate in a very similar way to the domestic cat. See Cats Mating and Lions Mating (new window).
Cats are induced ovulators meaning ovulation occurs not to a timetable but on copulation. Before birth the mother finds a quite place such as a cave to have kittens. A tigress is under a lot of stress in terms of nutritional requirements during the time the cubs are suckling.
|Female sexually receptive (estrus)||Once every two years possibly|
|Birth of Siberian tiger cubs in captivity||Occur mainly April – June to ensure food is more plentiful|
|When the female is sexually active estrus commences||Every 25 days approximately|
|Estrus||lasts 5 days on average|
|Litter size||1 – 7 (average 2.8 in zoos) – give birth normally every 2 years|
|Cub birth weight||785 – 1,610 grams – in 9 months the weight is 4x.|
|First month after birth||Mother stays with cubs and her range of movements are dramatically curtailed.|
|Cubs eat solid food for first time||6 – 8 weeks of age|
|Cubs weaned||6 months of age and male cubs weigh 90 – 105 lbs|
|Permanent canine teeth formed||12 – 18 months of age. The cub can kill prey at this age. Hunting needs to be improved.|
|Males begin to find independence||15 months of age|
|Males are independent and disperse to find their home range||17 – 24 months of age – Males on average travel 33 kms in one study. Females dispersed 9.7 kms from the natal area.|
|Cub stops growing||At aged 5|
|Tiger dies||At age of 20 – 26 years in captivity. In the wild a female might live to 15 years of age.|
The period of dispersal for a male (when they become independent) is fraught with difficulty and danger. They can get into fights with resident males and be badly injured. Females not infrequently settle down into their own breeding territory near their mothers. See also Baby tigers.
But for humankind the tiger would be the world’s top predator. It combines great strength with limitless courage and aggression when required. This is supported by a wide range of skills that always impress the rather feeble human. That is why we have to kill it. We fear the tiger. It fears us.
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2. SBI Brainstormer
3. Feline Conservation Federation magazine vol 53 issue 3 – Robert M Johnson
4. Creative Commons license: Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic
7. Wild Cats Of The World – Sunquists – 2002
9. Published under a Creative Commons license Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic
10. PoC Blog
13. Save The Tiger Fund – Setting Priorities For the Conservation and Recovery of Wild Tigers 2005-2015
14. Woodroffe and Ginsberg 1998
15. Your Dictionary