Bengal Tiger (P. tigris tigris)
Historical distribution of tigers (pale yellow) and 2006 (green) (NFWF 2007).
Tigris striatus Severtzov, 1858
The tiger (Panthera tigris) is a mammal of the Felidae family and one of the four species of "big cats" (subfamily Pantherinae) in the Panthera genus, along with the lion (Panthera leo), jaguar (Panthera onca), and leopard (Panthera pardus).
Native to the mainland of southeastern Asia, the tiger is an apex predator and the largest surviving feline species in the world. The critical endangered Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), confined to small parts of Russia, China, and Korea, is the largest subspecies of tiger. The Bengal tiger (P. tigris tigris) is the most common subspecies of tiger, constituting approximately 80 percent of the entire tiger population, and is found in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Nepal.
The tiger is solitary and territorial, preferring cover in deep forest, but also ranging in open areas. The cat hunts by stalk-and-ambush and may take a variety of mid- and large-sized prey, particularly ungulates. Males are much larger than females and have larger home ranges.
An endangered species, the majority of the world's tigers probably now live in captivity (VS 2006). A century ago, it was estimated that there were over 100,000 tigers in the world; now numbers are down to below 2,500 mature breeding individuals. Of the nine recognized subspecies of tigers at the beginning of the twentieth century, only six remain.
There are various measures utilized for protecting tigers and the environment in general. Key instruments include instituting laws and regulations, environmental education, and providing economic incentives for individuals, communities, and nations to care for their environment. For a comprehensive approach, a fourth fundamental pillar for guiding human behavior involves the human spiritual and religious dimension and the fundamental role that religious institutions potentially can play in environmental preservation. This approach is exemplified by the 2006 call of the Dali Lama against the using, selling, or buying of wild animals. Subsequently, Tibetans destroyed many of their tiger skins that were used as ornamental garments, despite the high value of some of these skins.
Tigers are the heaviest species of cat found in the wild. The liger is actually the largest cat in the world, but it is not a species or subspecies, rather a non-breeding hybrid, being a cross between a male Panthera leo (lion), and a female Panthera tigris (tiger); it is denoted scientifically as Panthera tigris × Panthera leo (Milne 1927). The larger tigers are comparable in size to the biggest fossil felids.
The tiger subspecies differ strongly in size. Large male Siberian tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) can reach a total length of 3.5 meters (m) and a weight of 300 kilograms (kg). Apart of those exceptionally large individuals, male Siberian tigers usually have a head and body length of 190-220 centimeters (cm) and an average weight of 250 kg. (The tail of a tiger is 60-110 cm long.) The heaviest Indian Tiger (P. t. tigris) that is confirmed through reliable sources weighed 258 kg (570 pounds). Reports of tigers weighing far more than 300 kg are mentioned in literature, but none of these cases is confirmed (Mazak 1983). Females are smaller, those of the Siberian or Indian subspecies weigh only between 100 and 167 kg. Isle tigers like the Sumatran subspecies (P. t. sumatrae) are much smaller than mainland tigers and weigh usually only 100-140 kg in males and 75-110 kg in females. The extinct Bali tiger (P. t. balica) was even smaller with a weight of 90-100 kg in males and 65-80 kg in females.
Tigers have rusty-reddish to yellow-rusty coats, a whitish medial and ventral area, and stripes that vary from brown or hay to pure black. The form and density of stripes differs between subspecies, but most tigers have in excess of 100 stripes. The pattern of stripes is unique to each animal, and thus could potentially be used to identify individuals, much in the same way as fingerprints are used to identify people. This is not, however, a preferred method of identification, due to the difficulty of recording the stripe pattern of a wild tiger. It seems likely that the function of stripes is camouflage, serving to hide these animals from their prey. The stripe pattern is found on a tiger's skin, and if shaved, its distinctive camouflage pattern would be preserved.
There is a well-known mutation that produces the white tiger, an animal that is rare in the wild, but widely bred in zoos due to its popularity. The white tiger is not a separate sub-species, but only a color variation. There are also unconfirmed reports of a "blue" or slate-colored tiger, and largely or totally black tigers, and these are assumed, if real, to be intermittent mutations rather than distinct species.
Like most cats, tigers are believed to have some degree of color vision (SWBG 2002). Similar to the lion, the tiger has the ability to roar.
Tigers are found in a variety of habitats, from tropical rainforests and boreal forests to dry savannas, as they are found in Ranthambore National Park. Compared to the lion, the tiger prefers more dense vegetation, for which its camouflage is ideally suited, and where a single predator is not at a disadvantage compared to a pride. Among the big cats, only the tiger and jaguar are strong swimmers; tigers are often found bathing in ponds, lakes, and rivers.
Adult tigers are territorial and fiercely defensive. The size of a tiger's home range mainly depends on prey abundance and, in case of male tigers, access to females. A tigress may have a territory of 20 km², while the territories of males are much larger, covering 60-100 km². Female territories may overlap those of other females, but males are usually intolerant of other males within their territory. Because of their aggressive nature, territorial disputes can be violent and may end in the death of one of the males, though such fatalities are rare. Most encounters between tigers end without physical incident.
To identify his territory, the male marks trees by spraying urine and anal gland secretions on trees as well as by marking trails with scat. Males show a behavior called flehmen, a grimacing face, when identifying a female's reproductive condition by sniffing their urine markings.
Tigers have been studied in the wild using a variety of techniques. The populations of tigers were estimated in the past using plaster casts of their pugmarks (footprints). In recent times, camera trapping has been used instead. Newer techniques based on DNA from their scat are also being evaluated. Radio collaring has been a popular approach to tracking them for study in the wild.
A female is only receptive for a few days and mating occurs frequently during that time period. A pair will copulate often and noisily, like other cats. The gestation period is 103 days and 3–4 cubs of about 1 kg (2 lb) each are born. The females rear them alone. Wandering male tigers may kill cubs to make the female receptive.
At 8 weeks, the cubs are ready to follow their mother out of the den. The cubs become independent around 18 months of age, but it is not until they are around 2–2½ years old that they leave their mother. The cubs reach sexual maturity by 3–4 years of age. The female tigers generally own territory near their mother, while males tend to wander in search of territory, which they acquire by fighting and eliminating another male.
Over the course of her life, a female tiger will give birth to an approximately equal number of male and female cubs. Tigers breed well in captivity, and the captive population in the United States may rival the wild population of the world.
In the wild, tigers mostly feed on larger ungulates (hoofed mammals), but they also take smaller prey. Tigers have been known to kill crocodiles on occasion (Bangalinet 2007; Sunquist and Sunquist 1988), although predation is rare and the predators typically avoid one another. Siberian tigers and brown bears are a serious threat to each other and they tend to avoid one another; however, tigers can and do kill larger brown bears. Even female tigers, which are considerably smaller than male tigers, are capable of taking down and killing adult gaurs by themselves. Sambar deer, wild boar, and gaur are the tiger's favored prey in India.
Like many predators, tigers are opportunistic and have shown the capability to eat much smaller prey, such as as langurs, peacocks, and hares. They also may kill such formidable predators as sloth bear, canids, leopards, and pythons as prey. Old and injured tigers have been known to attack humans or domestic cattle and are then termed as man-eaters or cattle-lifters, which often leads to them being captured, shot, or poisoned. The Sundarbans mangrove swamps of Bengal, where some healthy tigers have been known to hunt humans, have had a higher incidence of man-eaters.
In all of their range, tigers are the top predators and do not compete with other carnivores other than the dhole or Indian wild dog, which makes up for its relative lack of strength by numbers. While swimming, crocodiles can be dangerous to a tiger (Bangalinet 2007). Adult elephants are too dangerous to tigers to serve as common prey, but conflicts between elephants and tigers do sometimes take place. Young elephant and rhino calves are occasionally taken when they are left unprotected by their herds. A case where a tiger killed an adult female Indian rhino has been observed (Haemig 2007)
However, a desperate tiger will attack anything it regards as potential food, including humans.
Tigers primarily sleep during the day and begin hunting at dusk (Banglanet 2007). Tigers hunt alone and prefer primarily medium to large sized herbivores. They ambush their prey as other cats do, overpowering their prey from any angle, using their body size and strength to knock prey off balance. Even with their great masses, tigers can reach speeds of about 60 km/h (37 mph). The tiger uses its muscled forelimbs to hold onto the prey, bringing it to the ground. Once the prey is prone, the tiger bites the back of the neck, often breaking the prey's spinal cord, piercing the windpipe, or severing the jugular vein or carotid artery. Tigers prefer to bite the throats of large prey. The tiger remains latched onto the neck until its prey dies.
In the wild, tigers can leap as high as 5 m (16 ft) and as far as 9-10 m (30-33 ft), making them one of the highest-jumping mammals (just slightly behind cougars in jumping ability).
They have been reported to carry domestic livestock weighing 50 kg (110 lb) while easily jumping over fences 2 m (6 ft 6 in) high. Their heavily muscled forelimbs are used to hold tightly onto the prey and to avoid being dislodged, especially by large prey such as gaurs. Gaurs and water buffalo weighing over a ton have been killed by tigers weighing about a sixth as much. A single blow from a tiger's paw can kill a full-grown dog or human, or can incapacitate a 150 kg (330 lb) Sambar deer.
Humans are the tiger's most significant predator, as tigers are often poached illegally for their fur. Such poaching, as well as destruction of habitat, has greatly reduced tiger populations in the wild. A century ago, it is estimated there were over 100,000 tigers in the world; now numbers are down to below 2,500 mature breeding individuals, with no subpopulation containing more than 250 mature breeding individuals. The threat of extinction is mitigated, however, by the presence of some 20,000 tigers currently in captivity.
Many Indian tigers' parts find their way to China through Tibet, where it is widely used for making traditional costumes. At the Kalachakra Tibetan Buddhist festival in south India in January 2006, one of the most important Tibetian Buddhist festivals, the Dalai Lama preached a ruling against using, selling, or buying wild animals, their products, or derivatives (Denyer 2006; Huggler 2006). Subsequently, when Tibetan pilgrims returned to Tibet afterward, there was much destruction by Tibetans of their wild animal skins, including tiger and leopard skins used as ornamental garments and valued at many thousands of dollars (Denyer 2006; Huggler 2006). It has yet to be seen whether this will result in a long-term slump in the demand for poached tiger and leopard skins.
Tiger bones and nearly all body parts are used in traditional Chinese medicine for a range of purported uses including pain killers and aphrodisiacs. The use of tiger parts in pharmaceutical drugs in China is already banned. China has even made some offenses in connection with Tiger poaching punishable by death.
There are nine recent subspecies of tiger, three of which are extinct and one of which is almost certain to become extinct in the near future. The historical range of tigers (severely diminished today) ran through Russia, Siberia, Iran, Afghanistan, India, China, and south-east Asia, including the Indonesian islands.
These are the surviving subspecies, in descending order of wild population:
The tiger is uncommon in the fossil record. The oldest remains of a tiger-like cat, called Panthera palaeosinensis, have been found in China and Java. This species occurred about 2 million years ago at the beginning of the Pleistocene and was smaller than a tiger. Early true tiger fossils stem from Java and are between 1.6 and 1.8 million years old. Distinct fossils from the early and middle Pleistocene were discovered in deposits from China, Sumatra, and Java. For example, a specimen classified as the subspecies Trinil tiger (Panthera tigris trinilensis) lived about 1.2 million years ago and was found at the locality of Trinil, Java, Indonesia (the site of the finding of the fossil of the famous Java man) (Van den Hoek Ostende 2006).
In India and northern Asia, the tiger appears for the first time in the late Pleistocene. Fossil tigers were also found in eastern Beringia and Sachalin island. Tiger fossils of the late Pleistocene have also turned up in Japan. These fossils indicate that the Japanese tiger was not bigger than the island subspecies of tigers of recent ages. This may be due to the phenomenon in which body size is related to environmental space (sometimes known as island dwarfism), or in the case of a large predator like a tiger, availability of prey.
The tiger has long been a subject of imaginative literature. Both Rudyard Kipling in The Jungle Book and William Blake in Songs of Experience depict the tiger as a menacing and fearful animal. In The Jungle Book, the tiger, Shere Khan, is the wicked mortal enemy of the protagonist, Mowgli. However, other depictions are more benign: Tigger, the tiger from A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh stories, is cuddly and likable. The famous comic strip Calvin and Hobbes features Calvin and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes. A tiger also is featured on the cover of the popular cereal Frosted Flakes, bearing the name "Tony the Tiger." The tiger is also popular for sports teams nicknames and mascots.
The tiger is one of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals. In various Chinese arts and martial arts, the tiger is depicted as an equal rival towards the Chinese dragon. In Imperial China, a tiger often represented the highest army general (or present day defense secretary), while the emperor and empress were represented by a dragon and phoenix, respectively.
The tiger is regarded as the king of the jungle in most parts of Asia, because its forehead has a marking which resembles the Chinese character 王, which means "king." Consequently, many cartoon depictions of tigers in China are drawn with 王 on their forehead.
In a poll organized by Animal Planet in 2004, more than 50,000 viewers from 73 countries voted to decide their favorite animal (Manchester 2004). The tiger received 10,904 votes, winning the title of the World's Favorite Animal, beating man's best friend, dog, by 17 votes. Third most popular was the dolphin, followed by the horse and the lion.
Many nations have the tiger listed as their national animal, including Bangladesh (Royal Bengal tiger), China (along with Dragon and Panda), India (Royal Bengal tiger), Malaysia, Nepal (Royal bengal tiger), North Korea (Siberian tiger), and South Korea (Siberian tiger).
Tiger parts are used in traditional Chinese medicines. Many people in China believe that tiger parts have medicinal properties. There is no scientific corroboration to these beliefs, which include:
The American Zoo and Aquarium Association estimates that up to 12,000 tigers are being kept as private pets in the U.S., which is significantly more than the world's entire wild population (Lloyd and Mitchinson 2006). Part of the reason for the enormous privately held tiger population in the United States relates to legislation. Only nineteen states have banned private ownership of tigers, fifteen require only a license, and sixteen states have no regulations at all (Lloyd and Mitchinson 2006).
The success of breeding programs at American zoos and circuses led to an overabundance of cubs in the 1980s and 90s, which drove down prices for the animals. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) estimates there are now 500 lions, tigers, and other big cats in private ownership just in the Houston area (Lloyd and Mitchinson 2006).
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