Timeline of Tiger Extinctions

portrait of tiger on black background

Photo by Steve Wilson/Getty Images 

In the early 1900s, nine subspecies of tigers roamed the forests and grasslands of Asia, from Turkey to the eastern coast of Russia. Now, there are six.

Despite its iconic stature as one of the most recognizable and revered creatures on Earth, the mighty tiger has proven vulnerable to the actions of humankind. The extinction of the Balinese, Caspian, and Javan subspecies have coincided with the drastic alteration of more than 90 percent of tigers' habitat range by logging, agriculture, and commercial development. With fewer places to live, hunt and raise their young, tigers have also become more vulnerable to poachers seeking hides and other body parts that continue to fetch high prices on the black market.

Sadly, the survival of the six tiger subspecies still remaining in the wild is precarious at best. As of 2017, all six (Amur, Indian/Bengal, South China, Malayan, Indo-Chinese, and the Sumatran) subspecies have been classified as endangered by the IUCN.

The following photographic timeline chronicles the tiger extinctions that have occurred in recent history.

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1937: Balinese Tiger Extinction

An old male Balinese tiger killed in the early 1900s. Historic photo courtesy of Peter Maas / The Sixth Extinction

The Balinese tiger (Panthera balica) inhabited the tiny Indonesian island of Bali. It was the smallest of the tiger subspecies, ranging in weight from 140 to 220 pounds, and is said to have been a darker orange color than its mainland relatives with fewer stripes that were occasionally interspersed with small black spots.

The tiger was Bali's top wild predator, thus played a key role in maintaining the balance of other species on the island. Its primary food sources were wild boar, deer, monkeys, fowl, and monitor lizards, but deforestation and increasing agricultural operations began pushing tigers to the mountainous northwestern areas of the island around the turn of the 20th century. At the fringes of their territory, they were more easily hunted by the Balinese and Europeans for livestock protection, sport, and museum collections.

The last documented tiger, an adult female, was killed at Sumbar Kimia in Western Bali on September 27th, 1937, marking the extinction of the subspecies. While rumors of surviving tigers persisted throughout the 1970s, no sightings were confirmed, and it is doubtful that Bali has enough intact habitat left to support even a small tiger population.

The Balinese tiger was officially declared extinct by the IUCN in 2003.

There are no Balinese tigers in captivity and no photographs of a live individual on record. The above image is one of the only known depictions of this extinct subspecies.

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1958: Caspian Tiger Extinct

This Caspian Tiger was photographed in the Berlin Zoo in 1899. Historic photo courtesy of Peter Maas / The Sixth Extinction

The Caspian tiger (Panthera virgila), also known as the Hyrcanian or Turan tiger, inhabited the sparse forests and river corridors of the arid Caspian Sea region, including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, portions of Russia, and western China. It was the second largest of the tiger subspecies (the Siberian is the largest). It had a stocky build with wide paws and unusually long claws. Its thick fur, closely resembling the Bengal tiger in color, was particularly long around the face, giving the appearance of a short mane.

In conjunction with an extensive land reclamation project, the Russian government eradicated the Caspian tiger in the early 20th century. Army officers were instructed to kill all tigers found in the Caspian Sea region, resulting in the decimation of their population and the subsequent protected species declaration for the subspecies in 1947. Unfortunately, agricultural settlers continued destroying their natural habitats to plant crops, further decreasing the population. The few remaining Caspian tigers in Russia were extirpated by the mid-1950s.

In Iran, despite their protected status since 1957, no Caspian tigers are known to exist in the wild. A biological survey was conducted in remote Caspian forests in the 1970s but yielded no tiger sightings.

Reports of final sightings vary. It is commonly stated that the tiger was last seen in the Aral Sea region the early 1970s, while there are other reports that the last Caspian tiger was killed in northeast Afghanistan in 1997. The last officially documented Caspian tiger sighting occurred near the border of Afghanistan in 1958.

The Caspian tiger was declared extinct by the IUCN in 2003.

Although photographs confirm the presence of Caspian tigers in zoos in the late 1800s, none remain in captivity today.

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1972: Javan Tiger Extinct

The last documented sighting of the Javan tiger occurred in 1972. Photo by Andries Hoogerwerf / Wikimedia

The Javan tiger (Panthera sandaica), nearest neighboring subspecies of the Balinese tiger, inhabited only the Indonesian island of Java. They were larger than the tigers of Bali, weighing up to 310 pounds. It closely resembled its other Indonesian cousin, the rare Sumatran tiger, but had a greater density of darker stripes and the longest whiskers of any subspecies.

According to The Sixth Extinction, "In the early 19th century Javan tigers were so common all over Java, that in some areas they were considered nothing more than pests. As the human population rapidly increased, large parts of the island were cultivated, leading inevitably to a severe reduction of their natural habitat. Wherever man moved in, the Javan tigers were ruthlessly hunted down or poisoned." In addition, the introduction of wild dogs to Java increased competition for prey (the tiger already competed for prey with native leopards).

The last documented sighting of the Javan tiger occurred in 1972.

The Javan tiger was officially declared extinct by the IUCN in 2003.

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Bove, Jennifer. "Timeline of Tiger Extinctions." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/timeline-of-tiger-extinctions-1182009. Bove, Jennifer. (2020, August 28). Timeline of Tiger Extinctions. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/timeline-of-tiger-extinctions-1182009 Bove, Jennifer. "Timeline of Tiger Extinctions." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/timeline-of-tiger-extinctions-1182009 (accessed March 26, 2023).