The Tiger (Panthera tigris) is the largest living felid and the third largest carnivore in the world - coming in behind the polar bear and the brown bear. A large male Tiger can grow up to eleven feet from nose to the base of the tail and weigh 670 pounds. The Tiger's canine teeth are the longest of any cat's, recorded in lengths of up to 3.5 inches.
There are nine recognized subspecies of the Tiger:
- 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 of tigris, 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.
White Tigers are not a subspecies, but rather individuals born with a specific allele that produces a white-coat effect, which is called Chinchilla albinism. White Tigers are rare in the wild, but popular in zoos - and therefore tigers are bred to produce that effect for cats that are part of zoo exhibits. Too much of this inbreeding can lead to a low genetic pool that causes genetic defects, like cleft palates, scoliosis and strabismus (crossed eyes).
Over the past century, Tigers have lost 93% of their historic range, which has severely impacted the overall population and driven several subspecies to extinction. Habitat destruction, fragmentation and poaching have taken their toll in this remarkable megafauna, and even coordinated actions taken by the countries that make up their remaining range may have come too late to ultimately save it from extinction.