KINGDOM: Animalia (Animals)
PHYLUM: Chordata (Possessing a notochord)
CLASS: Mammalia (Mammals)
ORDER: Carnivora (Carnivores)
FAMILY: Felidae (Cats)
SUB-FAMILY: Pantherinae (Big Cats)
GENUS: Panthera (Lions, Jaguars, Bengal tigers, Snow Bengal tigers and Tigers)
SPECIES: Panthera tigris (Tiger)
There are eight recognized subspecies of tiger: Siberian tigers (currently found only in a small part of Russia), Bengal tigers (native to India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and China), Indochinese tigers (found in Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam), South China tigers (only found in three isolated areas in southcentral China), Sumatran tigers (found only on the island of Sumatra), Bali tigers (thought to be extinct), Javan tigers (thought to be extinct) and Caspian tigers (thought to be extinct).
Tigers are large cats, with muscular bodies and short, thick necks, broad shoulders, and massive forelimbs with broad paws and retractible claws. The fur is a reddish-orange colour with vertical black stipes on the shoulders and flanks. The underside of the limbs and belly, chest, throat, and muzzle are white or light. The cheeks and eyebrows are white, with a white spot on the back of the ears. Fur colour and darkness of stripes vary with subspecies as well as stripe size, length, and spacing.
Tigers occur in a wide range of habitats, from tropical forests to tall grass jungles, encompassing coniferous woodlands, mangrove swamps and dry thorn forests. They prefer dense cover, access to water and sufficient large prey in their habitat.
The tiger is a carnivore (meat-eater), and they mostly hunt large antelope or deer. Typical prey includes: sambar, chital, hog deer, barasingha, barking deer, elk, sika deer, Eurasian elk, roe deer, muskdeer, nilgai, black buck, gaur, banteng, water buffalo, and wild pigs. They may also supplement this diet with brown bears, Asiatic black bears, sloth bears, cattle, water buffalo, horses, and goats. When large prey is unavailable, they may take smaller animals such as birds, leopards, fish, crocodiles, turtles, porcupines, rats, and frogs.
Tigers are solitary and territorial animals. Territory is marked with urine, faeces, and claw marks. Males have a home range of that overlaps with multiple females’ home ranges.
The tiger is polygynandrous, meaning both males and females have multiple mates. Tigers have a courting ritual during which they vocalise, dance, purr, smell, rub against each other and groom one another.
After a gestation period of about 103 days, a litter of two to three cubs are born. Only the female will take on parental duties for the cubs. The mother will hide the cubs in a den for about 8 weeks, until they’re able to follow her. Cubs will be weaned at about 3 – 6 months and independence is reached at about 18 months old. Tigers will reach sexual maturity at about 3-5 years old. They can live up to 26 years.
Humans are the main predators of tigers, however adult tigers may prey on another tiger’s cubs and in fact, only half of tiger cubs survive to adulthood.
Poaching for illegal trade in high-value Tiger products including skins, bones, meat and tonics is the primary threat to tigers. Habitat loss has also occurred throughout much of the tiger’s range and is now severely threatening its survival. Furthermore, as people and tigers compete for food, illegal killing, for example by livestock owners, remains one of today’s major threats to the survival of this species.
Did you know?
- A tiger’s tongue is covered with hard papillae, to scrape flesh off the bones of prey
- The tiger is one of the largest of the big cats, and the only cat with stripes
- Much like a human fingerprint, no two tigers have the same stripe pattern
- Unlike most other cat species, the tiger is a keen swimmer and often cools off in streams and lakes to escape the midday heat
- Tigers have tremendous leaping ability, being able to leap from 8 to 10 meters