Wow. I'm not sure how to say this, but today's Caturday entry finishes things up for my series on extant felid species. I started this more structured approach to learning and writing about these cats at the end of July 2013, and I've managed to make it an almost weekly series since then. This isn't the end of Caturday by any means, but I will have to figure out where to go from here. Thanks for reading. I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have.
The Tiger (Panthera tigris) is the largest felid still living today, and the third largest carnivore in the world. Its closest living relatives are the other four big cats and members of the genus Panthera - Lions, Jaguars and Leopards. Tigers are one of the very few cat species that have striped coats, and the stripes also appear on their skins. The strip pattern is unique to each cat, and is thought to aid them in camouflage. Their ears are black, with white "eyespots" on the back of each ear.
Though Tigers are the largest of all cat species, they have great variability in size, even moreso than Lions. The Bengal and Siberian Tigers are considered to be the largest subspecies still living, while the Sumatran Tiger, living in a warmer climate, is the smallest subspecies. In general, however, a male Tiger from India or Siberia will outweigh a male Lion by around 100 pounds (45 kg). Male Tigers are larger than female Tigers, weighing about 70% more on average. Males can measure up to 154 inches (390 cm) in total length, and weigh about 675 pounds (306 kg). Females can grow up to 108 inches (275 cm) in total length, weighing about 368 pounds (167 kg). Males have proportionally wider paws than females, which allows gender to be inferred by observing the cat's tracks.
There are ten recognized subspecies of Tiger, three of which are extinct.
Still With Us
- Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris), which can be found in India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. A favorite target of poachers due to the illegal demand for body parts used in traditional Chinese medicine.
- Indochinese Tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti), which can be found in Cambodia, Laos, Burma, China, Thailand and Vietnam. Smaller than Bengal Tigers and with slightly darker coats. Approximately only 350 members of this subspecies exist in the wild, and are under extreme threat from poaching and loss of habitat.
- Malayan Tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni), which can be found only on the southern part of the Malay Peninsula. Wild population surveys put the number of individuals at about 500. Again, poaching is a significant threat to their survival.
- Sumatran Tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae), which can be found on the island of Sumatra. It is the smallest in size of the tigris subspecies and is considered Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Studies conducted of Sumatran Tigers have revealed that it has very unique genetic characteristics, and may evolve into a completely separate species (instead of being considered a subspecies) if it does not go extinct.
- Siberian Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), also known as the Amur Tiger, can be found in far-eastern Siberia. It is among the largest felids ever to have existed. It has a thick coat to help it survive in such a cold climate.
- South China Tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis), also known as the Amoy Tiger or Xiamen Tiger, can be found in China. It is Critically Endangered, one of the most at-risk subspecies in the world. Sightings in the wild are extremely scarce, and though there are 59 individuals in captivity, they have all descended from only six, leaving them with a low amount of genetic diversity.
- Bali Tiger (Panthera tigris balica), once found in Bali. Was the smallest subspecies oftigris, due to the limited amount of prey and habitat, which is part of island life. What is believed to have been the last Bali Tiger, a female, was killed in 1937.
- Caspian Tiger (Panthera tigris virgata), also known as the Hyrcanian Tiger or Turan Tiger, once found in the forest habitat around the Caspian Sea. Individuals of this subspecies had been recorded up until the early 1970s. It was most closely related to the Siberian/Amur Tiger.
- Javan Tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica), once found on the island of Java, became extinct in the mid-1970s. After 1979, there were no more credible sightings of the Javan Tiger, and subsequent searches has yielded nothing substantive.
The Bengal Tiger subspecies has a coat variation that results in white coloring instead of orange or brown, and is estimated to occur naturally in about 1 in 10,000 births. This coat variation is not the same as albinism. White Tigers are found more often in captivity because their unique coloring is thought to be more interesting and attractive - however, irresponsible captive breeding can result in cats that have this coat variation but many genetic defects along with it as a result of inbreeding. Even white Tigers that appear to be health do not tend to live as long as their orange relatives. Because of this, the American Zoological Association has banned the intentional breeding of white Tigers, Lions and King Cheetahs.
Tigers are solitary animals, maintaining a territory of their own and deliberately avoiding contact with other Tigers except when mating or raising cubs. Tigers whose territories overlap stay aware of each other's movements and activity, but generally do not seek each other out. They are not always aggressively territorial with Tigers of the opposite sex, and have been observed sharing kills with other cats that aren't even related to them. Tigers are good swimmers and have an affinity for water, a trait that makes them unique among most cats.
Mating can occur year-round, but mostly takes place during the end of the year. After a 112-day gestation period, female Tigers will give birth to a litter of two to three cubs, although litters as large as six have been recorded. Male Tigers take no part in raising cubs, and unrelated adult males may even kill cubs to make their mother receptive to mating again. Tigers are fiercely protective mothers, but even so the mortality rate of cubs in their first two years is 50%. The most common causes of cub deaths are other tigers, human hunters, starvation, exposure, or accident. Cubs become fairly independent at 18 months, but will not fully separate from their mother until they are 2 or 2.5 years old. Female cubs will establish territories close to their mother's, while male cubs will set out a little further to establish theirs.
As a species, Tigers are considered to be endangered. A combination of poaching and destruction of habitat have severely reduced their numbers from about 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century to only 3,500 (at most) still in the wild.