Facts and Characteristics of the Caspian Tiger

caspian tiger
The Caspian Tiger.

Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

One of three subspecies of Eurasian tiger to go extinct within the last century, the other two are the Bali Tiger and the Javan Tiger, the Caspian Tiger once roamed huge swaths of territory in central Asia, including Iran, Turkey, the Caucasus, and the "-stan" territories bordering Russia (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, etc.). An especially robust member of the Panthera tigris family, the largest males approached 500 pounds, the Caspian Tiger was hunted mercilessly during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially by the Russian government, which put a bounty on this beast in a heavy-handed effort to reclaim farmlands bordering the Caspian Sea.

Why Did the Caspian Tiger Go Extinct?

There are a few reasons, besides relentless hunting, why the Caspian Tiger went extinct. First, human civilization encroached mercilessly on the Caspian Tiger's habitat, converting its lands into cotton fields and even looping roads and highways through it fragile habitat. Second, the Caspian Tiger succumbed to the gradual extinction of its favorite prey, wild pigs, which were also hunted by humans, as well as falling prey to various diseases and perishing in floods and forest fires (which grew more frequent with changes in the environment). And third, the Caspian Tiger was already pretty much on the brink, restricted to such a small range of territory, in such dwindling numbers, that virtually any change would have tipped it inexorably toward extinction.

One of the odd things about the extinction of the Caspian Tiger is that it happened literally while the world was watching: various individuals were hunted died and were documented by naturalists, by the news media, and by the hunters themselves, in the course of the early 20th century. The list makes for depressing reading: Mosul, in what is now the country of Iraq, in 1887; the Caucasus Mountains, in the south of Russia, in 1922; Iran's Golestan Province in 1953 (after which, too late, Iran made hunting the Caspian Tiger illegal); Turkmenistan, a Soviet republic, in 1954; and a small town in Turkey as late as 1970 (although this last sighting is poorly documented).

Confirmed Sightings

Although it's widely considered to be an extinct species, there have been numerous, unconfirmed sightings of the Caspian Tiger over the past few decades. More encouragingly, genetic analysis has shown that the Caspian Tiger may have diverged from a population of (still extant) Siberian Tigers as recently as 100 years ago and that these two tiger subspecies may even have been one and the same animal. If this turns out to be the case, it may be possible to resurrect the Caspian Tiger by as simple an expedient as re-introducing the Siberian Tiger to its once-native lands of central Asia, a project that has been announced (but not yet fully implemented) by Russia and Iran, and which falls under the general category of de-extinction.

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Strauss, Bob. "Facts and Characteristics of the Caspian Tiger." ThoughtCo, Sep. 3, 2021, thoughtco.com/caspian-tiger-1093063. Strauss, Bob. (2021, September 3). Facts and Characteristics of the Caspian Tiger. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/caspian-tiger-1093063 Strauss, Bob. "Facts and Characteristics of the Caspian Tiger." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/caspian-tiger-1093063 (accessed March 28, 2023).