Species: Panthera tigris
A powerful hunter with sharp teeth, strong jaws, and an agile
body, the tiger is the largest member of the cat family (Felidae).
It is also the largest land-living mammal whose diet consists
entirely of meat. The tiger's closest relative is the lion.
Without the fur, it is difficult to distinguish a tiger from
a lion, but the tiger is the only cat with striped fur.
Scientists have classified tigers into nine subspecies:
Bali, Java, Caspian, Sumatran, Amur (or Siberian), Indian
(or Bengal), South China, Malayan, and Indo-Chinese. The first three
subspecies are extinct.
Tigers range in size
from the diminutive Sumatrans—females weigh between
165 and 242 pounds, and males weigh between 220 and 310 pounds—to the largest mainland tigers, such as Indians—females weigh between 220 and 352 pounds, and males weigh between
396 and 570 pounds. Total length ranges from seven to 12 feet.
The tiger's current
distribution is a patchwork across Asia, from India to the
Russian Far East. Tigers require large areas with forest cover,
water, and suitable large ungulate prey such as deer and swine.
With these three essentials, tigers can live from the tropical
rainforests of Sumatra and Indochina to the temperate oak
forest of the Amur River Valley in the Russian Far East.
Tigers prey primarily
on wild boar (Sus scrofa)
and other swine, and medium
to large deer such as chital (Axis axis), red deer (Cervus
and sambar (C. unicolor)
. Where they
occur together, tigers also hunt gaur (Bos frontalis)
a huge wild cattle. Tigers also kill domestic animals such
as cows and goats, and occasionally kill people.
The tiger hunts alone,
primarily between dusk and dawn, traveling six to 20 miles
in a night in search of prey. A typical predatory sequence
includes a slow, silent stalk until the tiger is 30 to 35
feet from the selected prey animal followed by a lightening
fast rush to close the gap. The tiger grabs the animal in
its forepaws, brings it to the ground, and finally kills the
animal with a bite to the neck or throat. After dragging the
carcass to a secluded spot, the tiger eats. A tiger eats 33
to 40 pounds of meat in an average night, and must kill about
once per week. Catching a meal is not easy; a tiger is successful
only once in ten to 20 hunts.
An adult tiger
defends a large area from all other tigers of the same sex.
The primary resource of this territory is food. A female's
territory must contain enough prey to support herself and
her cubs. A male's territory, additionally, must offer access
to females with which to mate. Thus, a male's territory overlaps
with that of one to seven females. Male territories are always
larger than those of females. But territory size varies enormously
and is directly related to the abundance of prey in a given
habitat. For instance, Indian tigers in prey-rich habitats
in Nepal defend quite small territories: female territories
average just eight square miles. At the other extreme, in
the prey-poor Russian Far East, Amur tiger female territories
average 200 square miles. In both areas, male territories
are proportionately larger.
a mother and her cubs, tigers live and hunt alone. But that
does not mean they are not social. Scent marks and visual
signposts, such as scratch marks, allow tigers to track other
tigers in the area, and even identify individuals. A female
tiger knows the other females whose territories abut hers;
in many cases, a neighbor may be her daughter. Females know
their overlapping males (and vice versa) and probably know
when a new male takes over. All tigers can identify passing
strangers. So, solitary tigers actually have a rich social
life; they just prefer to socialize from a distance.
A male and female
meet only briefly to mate. After a gestation of 100 to 112
days, two to three blind and helpless cubs are born in a secluded
site under very thick cover. Cubs weigh just over two pounds
at birth and nurse until they are six months old. During the
next 18 months, they gradually become independent, and at
about two years of age strike out alone to find their own
territory. Females may establish a territory adjacent to that
of their mother, or even take over part of their mother's
territory. Adult females generally produce a litter every
Mortality and Longevity:
can live to 20 years of age in zoos but only 15 years in the
wild. And most wild tigers do not live that long. Only half
of all cubs survive to independence from their mother at about
two years of age. Only 40 percent of these survivors live
to establish a territory and begin to produce young. The risk
of mortality continues to be high even for territorial adults,
especially for males, which must defend their territories
from other males.
The tiger is
listed as endangered on the U.S. Endangered Species List and
on Appendix I of CITES. Between 5,100 and 7,600 tigers remain
in the wild. (Editor's Note: As of 2006, tiger specialists estimate that fewer than 5,000 tigers remain.) For more information about tigers and conservation,
visit the Save the Tiger Fund
and the World Wildlife
Fund - U.S.
from ZooGoer 27(2) 1998