Tiger Facts

Scientific Name: Panthera Tigris

Three tigers (Panthera tigris) walking

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Tigers (Panthera tigris) are the largest and most powerful of all cats. They are extremely agile despite their large size. Tigers are capable of leaping 26 to 32 feet in a single bound. They are also among the most recognizable of cats due to their distinct orange coat, black stripes, and white markings.  Tigers are native to South and Southeast Asia, China and the Russian Far East, though their habitat and numbers have dwindled rapidly.

Fast Facts: Tiger

  • Scientific Name: Panthera tigris
  • Common Name: Tiger
  • Basic Animal Group: Mammal
  • Size: 3–3.5 feet tall at shoulders, 4.6–9.2 feet long including head and body, 2–3 feet tail length
  • Weight: 220–675 pounds depending on sub-species and gender
  • Lifespan: 10–15 years
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Habitat: South and Southeast Asia, China and the Russian Far East.
  • Population: 3,000–4,500 
  • Conservation Status: Endangered

Description

Tigers vary in color, size, and markings according to their subspecies. Bengal tigers, which inhabit the forests of India, have the quintessential tiger appearance, with a dark orange coat, black stripes, and a white underbelly. Siberian tigers, the largest of all the tiger subspecies, are lighter in color and have a thicker coat that enables them to brave the harsh, cold temperatures of the Russian taiga.

Bengal Tiger at Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan, India
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Habitat and Distribution

Tigers historically occupied a range that stretched from the eastern part of Turkey to the Tibetan plateau, Manchuria and the Sea of Okhotsk. Today, tigers occupy only about seven percent of their former range. More than half of the remaining wild tigers live in the forests of India. Smaller populations remain in China, Russia, and parts of Southeast Asia.

Tigers inhabit a wide range of habitats such as lowland evergreen forests, taiga, grasslands, tropical forests, and mangrove swamps. They generally require habitat with covers such as forests or grasslands, water resources, and enough territory to support their prey.

Diet

Tigers are carnivores. They are nocturnal hunters that feed on large prey such as deer, cattle, wild pigs, rhinoceroses, and elephants. They also supplement their diet with smaller prey such as birds, monkeys, fish, and reptiles. Tigers also feed on carrion.

Behavior

Tigers are solitary, territorial cats. They occupy a home range that is generally between 200 and 1000 square kilometers. Females occupying smaller home ranges than males. Tigers often create several dens within their territory. They are not water-fearing cats; in fact, they are adept swimmers capable of crossing moderately sized rivers. As a result, water rarely poses a barrier to them.

Tigers are among only four species of great cats that are capable of roaring.

Reproduction and Offspring

Tigers reproduce sexually. Although they are known to mate year-round, breeding usually peaks between November and April. Their gestation period is 16 weeks. A litter usually consists of between three to four cubs which are raised alone by the mother; the father plays no role in the upbringing.

Tiger cubs generally leave their den with their mother at about 8 weeks old and are independent at 18 months. They stay with their mothers, however, for over two years.

Full grown Bengal Tiger watching over his Cub
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Conservation Status

Tigers are listed as an endangered species. Fewer than 3,200 tigers remain in the wild. More than half of those tigers live in the forests of India. The primary threats facing tigers include poaching, habitat loss, dwindling prey populations. Although protected areas have been established for tigers, illegal killings still take place mainly for their skins and use in traditional Chinese medical practices.

Although most of their historical range has been destroyed, research suggests tigers living in the Indian sub-continent are still genetically strong. This indicates that, with appropriate conservation and protection in place, tigers do have the capacity to rebound as a species. In India, it is illegal to shoot tigers or trade in their skins or other body parts.

Subspecies

There are five subspecies of tigers alive today and every one of these subspecies is classified as endangered. The five subspecies of tigers include Siberian tigers, Bengal tigers, Indochinese tigers, South China tigers, and Sumatran tigers. There are also three additional subspecies of tigers that have gone extinct during the past sixty years. The extinct subspecies include Caspian tigers, Javan tigers, and Bali tigers.

Tigers and Humans

Human beings have been fascinated by tigers for millennia. Tiger images first appeared as a cultural symbol nearly 5,000 years ago in the area now known as Pakistan. Tigers were part of the games in the Roman Colosseum.
While tigers can and will attack a human being if they are threatened or unable to find food elsewhere, tiger attacks are relatively rare. Most man-eating tigers are older or incapacitated, and thus unable to chase down or overpower larger prey.

Evolution

Modern cats first appeared about 10.8 million years ago. The ancestors of tigers, along with those of jaguars, leopards, lions, snow leopards, and clouded leopards, split off from the other ancestral cat lineages early in the evolution of the cat family and today form what is known as the Panthera lineage. Tigers shared a common ancestor with snow leopards that lived about 840,000 years ago.

Sources

  • “Basic Facts About Tigers.” Defenders of Wildlife, 10 Jan. 2019, defenders.org/tiger/basic-facts.
  • “Tiger Facts.” National Geographic, 2 Aug. 2015, www.nationalgeographic.com.au/animals/tiger-facts.aspx.
  • “Where Do Tigers Live? And Other Tiger Facts.” WWF, World Wildlife Fund.