Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright

Of the eight subspecies of tiger which once graced the earth, three are now extinct. Several other species have not been seen in their native habitat for some years. The three extinct groups are the Bali (disappeared in the late 1930s), the Javan (1970s) and Caspian (1950s). The Bengal is regarded as endangered and the other four are critically endangered.

The tiger is a solitary beast and has a large territory. Females are estimated to have range of 10 to 39 km2 and males 30 to 105 km2. it is difficult to estimate accurately the range of the Sumatran and Indo-Chinese tigers but it is believed that there are 4 to 5 tigers per 100 sq. kms. Tigers mainly hunt at night and may travel many miles in search of prey. The distinctive coat pattern blends well with their habitat. No two stripe patterns are identical so tigers can be 'finger-printed' by their pelage.

Hunting involves a slow, silent approach until the tiger is close enough to make a charge at its quarry. Tigers may land on the victim's back, pinning it to the ground and/or breaking its neck. It will also bite through the throat. Tigers will drag a several hundred pound carcase as far as 500 metres to conceal it in bushes or tall grass. Up to 60 pounds of meat can be consumed in a night although they rarely eat this much.

Tigers will generally avoid humans unless they are sick or injured and unable to hunt. If there is no traditional prey available, they may attack domestic stock.

Tigers have several lairs. The female will choose one as a home for her litter. Two to six cubs will be raised mostly by the mother. By the time they are eight weeks old, they will be hunting with their mother. By six months of age they will have learnt how to kill and by 16 months of age they can look after themselves although they stay as a family group for two to three years before leaving or being forced out. They then need to find a range of their own. Tigers designate their range by scent-marking. They have good night vision and a strong sense of smell.

The Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) is also known as the Amur. It is the largest of the tigers, reaching up to 13 feet in length with a weight of up to 700lbs. It is believed that 350-450 exist in the wild. There are another 490 odd in zoo conservation programmes. This species are found mostly in coniferous and birch woodlands of the mountain range east of the Amur River in the south east corner of Russia. There are also a few in northeast China and the Korean peninsula.

Siberian Tiger(56028)Credit: Wikimedia

The main prey for the Siberian is elk and wild boar. Distribution of the elk and boar is uneven and the tiger needs a vast area to survive. The Siberian was once found as far west as Mongolia and in the 1940s was once the brink of extinction. Because of extensive conservation efforts by the Russians and others, the decline in numbers has halted. The Siberian has a harsh climate to contend with but human density is low and vast woodlands provide room to roam.

The Siberian tiger was used in traditional Chinese medicine. In 1993 the use of tiger bone for medicinal purposes was declared illegal by the State Council of the People's Republic of China.

Siberian tigers have widely spaced brown stripes on a pale orange background. They have a thick ruff which is white as it the chest and belly. Males may reach 13 feet long and weigh up to 660 lbs. Females are smaller and lighter.

The Bengal (Indian) tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) is the most numerous. It covers a wide range of habitats and is the only tiger to frequent mangrove forests. It is estimated that there are 2,000 in the wild with the 333 in captivity mostly in India. The Benal is now strictly protected. Males may have territories of 200 square miles although if food is plentiful, the territory will be much smaller territory. The Bengal preys on deer, antelopes, pigs and buffalo.

Bengal males are up to 10 feet in length and weigh from 400 to 575 pounds. One to five young are born. The coat is a reddish orange to ochre with white under-surfaces and dark grey to black stripes. The skin is pigmented too. A distinctive characteristic is the white spot on the back of the ears. Bengals can adjust their coat to the climate, shedding hair when the weather turns hot. The Bengal can rung at 60 kms an hour for short distances. It spends 16-18 hours a day sleeping. the main The main threats are poachers, decreasing habitat and retributive killings.

The Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) is the last remaining subspecies of Indonesian tiger. Most of the 400 left in the wild are in national parks on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. There are another 200 or so in zoos. The Sumatran is the darkest of all tigers with closely spaced broad, black stripes which are often doubled. The forelegs are striped.

Sumatran Tiger(56029)Credit: Wikimedia

They are the smallest of the tigers. The males are larger than the females averaging 2.4 meters (8 feet) in length from head to tail and weighing about 120 kilograms (264 pounds). It feeds mainly on wild pig and deer. Its habitat includes lowland rainforest, montane forest and peat swamps. Agriculture and commercial plantations, logging, road construction and poaching are all threats to the Sumatran tiger.

The Indo Chinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti) is critically endangered with between 700 and 1,225 animals left. It is found mostly in tropical deciduous, evergreen and semi-evergreen forests.

It is a smallish species and darker than the Bengal. The black to dark grey stripes are shorter and narrower. The upper parts of the animal vary from reddish orange to ochre, with lighter under parts are lighter. It is found mainly in Thailand. Poaching of both the tiger and its prey make life difficult for this species.

It is 25 years since the South Chinese tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) has been sighted. It is the most critically endangered and is regarded as 'functionally extinct' due mainly to severe fragmentation of its habitat and scarcity of prey. For years it was exterminated as a pest. There are some 40 odd in Chinese zoos. It is one of the smallest species. The short, broad stripes are set wide apart. The stripes are dark grey to black on a reddish orange to ochre background. The under parts are creamy white.

Males of the species measure approximately 2.5 meters from head to tail and weigh about 150 kilograms Females are smaller. It is believed that all subspecies trace back to the South Chinese tiger.

White tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)
White tigers are not a new species nor are they albinos. The white tiger is a recessive gene carrier. The first white tiger (Mohun) was captured in 1951 in a district of Madhya Pradesh in India.

Tigers have many fans. They are a magnificent creature and their image appears on many items. It is hard to imagine the world is so close to losing all of them.