Tiger, Panthera tigris
Tigers are the largest member of the cat family. Their heavy black stripes on an orange background readily distinguish them from other species of cats of any size. Tigers measure seven to ten feet long nose to tail, stand three feet tall at the shoulder and weigh from 250 to over 500 pounds, depending on the subspecies. Larger individuals in the wild have been reported but are difficult to confirm. Captive specimens over 500 pounds are generally overweight.
There are six living subspecies of tiger—Amur, Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, South China and Sumatran. Because many subspecies look very similar, most are distinguished by their ranges in the wild, although there are slight physical differences among them. Amur tigers are the largest and lightest colored subspecies in comparison to the Sumatran subspecies, which is the smallest and darkest colored tiger. Tigers in the temperate parts of Asia have much longer and thicker coats than those in the tropics.
White tigers have appeared occasionally in India; in captivity, they are considered “generic” tigers because they are of unknown subspecies, are subspecies hybrids and/or their lineages cannot be traced back to the wild-caught founders. No white tigers are currently known to exist in nature.
Tigers live in a wide range of habitats, all of which must contain sufficient prey populations, adequate cover to stalk or ambush prey and access to water. Tigers may live in northern latitudes that contain snowy coniferous and hardwood forests, monsoon or seasonally deciduous equatorial forests or tropical rainforests.
The Amur tiger, Panthera tigris altaica, is found primarily in the Russian Far East; remnant populations remain in northeast China. The Sumatran tiger, P. t. sumatrae, is found only on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. The Bengal tiger, P. t. tigris, the most common subspecies of tiger, is found scattered in forests throughout India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, western Myanmar (Burma) and perhaps southern China. The Indochinese tiger, P. t. corbetti, is found in Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and southern China. The South China tiger, P. t. amoyensis, is only found in Chinese zoos.
Tigers prey on large mammals such as deer and wild boars. They occasionally kill domestic livestock.
Tigers are generally solitary animals, with the home range of one male overlapping that of several females. Females in estrus spray pheromone-rich urine on trees and other natural “signposts,” which alerts nearby males to their reproductive status. Through loud moaning calls, the prospective mates find each other. After a gestation of about 100 days, females give birth on average to two to three cubs (only one or two typically survive to maturity), and over the next two years, will teach the cubs the hunting skills needed to survive. Between 18 and 36 months of age, the cubs disperse to establish their own home ranges. Daughters tend to settle near their mothers; sons disperse greater distances.
A solitary hunter, a tiger may travel up to 20 miles a night in search of prey. Using its quiet stalking ability, a tiger sneaks in close and then ambushes its prey, often pouncing on it from the rear. Death typically comes from a crushing bite to the back of the neck.
Threats to Survival:
Depending on where tigers live, threats are the loss of habitat and prey, fragmentation and isolation, and poaching and poisoning. Though tigers are a protected species, poaching for the illegal wildlife trade is a big threat to tiger populations. Most tiger populations are small and isolated, and it is likely that many of these populations are losing genetic diversity.
The tiger is listed as an Endangered species by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and IUCN, and is an Appendix I species under CITES. From a wild population a century ago that was estimated to have numbered about 100,000 tigers, fewer than 4,000 remain in the wild today. Three tiger subspecies (Bali, Javan, and Caspian) have gone extinct in the past 100 years, and six subspecies now remain. The Bengal tiger is the most numerous. Amur, Malayan, Sumatran, and Indochinese tigers are all thought to number fewer than 500 in the wild. South China tigers are thought to be functionally extinct in the wild; a field census in 2001 found no evidence of wild tigers in the primary tiger reserves.
The North American Tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP) manages zoo-based populations of Amur, Sumatran and Malayan tigers, with the goal of maximizing genetic diversity and having sustainable populations that can serve as a ‘genetic lifeboat’ for their wild counterparts. It also manages generic tigers with the goal of eventually phasing out this tiger population to provide more space for managing studbook-registered tigers. The Tiger SSP also participates in Global Species Management Plans for Amur and Sumatran tigers.
To overcome breeding incompatibility issues that may arise between tigers paired for breeding, reproductive scientists have recently had success breeding tigers through laproscopic artificial insemination.
International Tiger Studbook Keeper
Peter Mueller, Zoologischer Garten Leipzig
Tiger SSP Coordinator & Amur Tiger SSP Coordinator
Tara Harris, Minnesota Zoological Garden
Malayan Tiger SSP Vice Coordinator
Mike Dulaney, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
Sumatran Tiger SSP Vice Coordinator & Reproduction Advisor
Karen Goodrowe-Beck, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
Generic Tiger SSP Vice Coordinator
Don Goff, Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo
Amur, Sumatran and Indochinese Tiger Regional Studbook Keeper & SPMAG Advisor
Kathy Traylor-Holzer, Minnesota Zoological Garden
Tiger SSP Education Advisor
Christina Dembiec, Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens
Tiger range countries have developed strategies that aim to double the number of wild tigers in the next ten years. Accomplishing this bold goal is going to take a lot of additional support. The Tiger SSP launched the Tiger Conservation Campaign to mobilize accredited zoos across North America to support tiger conservation efforts and raise awareness. To increase effectiveness and efficiency of zoo support for wild tigers, the SSP has teamed with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which operates the largest field conservation program for tigers across the five subspecies that remain in the wild.
- In Sumatra, our campaign is supporting WCS’s efforts to reduce tiger-human conflict by constructing tiger-proof livestock pens in villages, increasing outreach and awareness, and responding with veterinary assistance to tigers caught in snares. We also support efforts to combat tiger related crime and habitat loss.
- In the Russian Far East, our campaign is supporting WCS’s efforts to curb poaching using
more effective patrolling and monitoring techniques. Also, a new Tiger Health Support Program is working to understand diseases that threaten Amur tigers and train veterinarians so they can respond to disease outbreaks.
- In peninsular Malaysia, our campaign is supporting WCS’s efforts to increase the effectiveness of anti-poaching patrols, and to strengthen anti-poaching laws. We are also supporting local education and outreach efforts in Malaysia, focused on tiger conservation.
The Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA) is formed of 15 international and Russian non-governmental organizationss all working to support conservation of Amur leopards and tigers in the wild. Some raise funds and awareness and some implement projects in the Russian Far East and China. ALTA channels money raised by the international zoo community, public and corporate sponsors to four implementing agencies working to save these magnificent and threatened animals.
Tiger Conservation Campaign, www.mnzoo.org/tigerssp/conserResearch.html
Tiger Conservation Campaign Facebook Page, www.facebook.com/tigercampaign
Sumatran Tiger Global Species Management Plan,
Amur Tiger Global Species Management Plan,
Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance, www.altaconservation.org