The tiger (Panthera tigris) is a big cat common in Asia. It is distinctive because of its size and characteristic dark stripe pattern on a golden yellow to reddish-brown background. There are eight to nine subspecies, distinguished as mainland and island subspecies, which differ in appearance. The greatest differences are between the small, contrastingly colored Sumatran tigers and the large, paler colored Siberian tigers, also known as Amur tigers. Typical subspecies between the two extremes are the Indian Bengal Tiger and the Indochinese Tiger. The extinct Bali tiger originally represented the smallest subspecies. The Siberian subspecies is the third largest land-dwelling predator after the polar bear and brown bear.
Sumatran tigers reach an average head-torso length of about 140 cm, a tail length of about 60 cm and a weight of about 120 kg (male) and 90 kg (female), respectively. Male Siberian tigers, on the other hand, reach a head-torso length of up to 200 cm, have a tail about 90 cm long and weigh about 250 kg. Siberian tiger females are with approximately 150 kg of body weight clearly smaller than the males.
Tigers usually live solitary and feed mainly on larger ungulates. They inhabit a wide variety of habitats, such as tropical rainforests, grasslands, swamps or boreal forests. Originally, the tiger was distributed from the Caucasus and the Far East of Russia over East China, the Indian subcontinent and rear India to Sumatra, Java and Bali. Today, the tiger has disappeared from large parts of its former range. Three subspecies are already extinct. In total, it is estimated that 3000 to 5000 wild tigers remain, most of which are now restricted to isolated protected areas. The species is classified as “critically endangered” (Endangered) by the IUCN.
Coloration and coat
The tiger is not to be confused with any other big cat because of its striking stripe pattern. Like the fur coloring with the leopard and jaguar (rosettes) or lion (sand-colored fur), the stripes of the tiger in combination with the basic color of the fur serve the camouflage. Compared to the regular stripes of a zebra, the irregular and partly broken stripes of the tiger are an optimal adaptation to the background of its habitat. The special coloring allows it to hide in vegetation or on the ground. In bamboo thickets, for example, the black stripes on the golden-yellow or red-orange ground fur color appear like shadows in the sunlight, and in arid grasslands the tiger blends in with the blades of grass and smaller bushes. In the overall perception, the big cat almost “blurs” into its surroundings, and the tiger remains undetected for its prey for a long time. The Siberian tiger can be spotted in winter only on tree-free, snow-covered areas, whereas the forest, in turn, gives him perfect camouflage, since many trees and shrubs in the taiga do not shed the dry leaves colored by autumn.
“The coloration provides the tiger with complete protection. When he moves in the taiga among the bushes and arid foliage, the black, yellow and white colors flow completely into each other and the animal takes on a drab brown-gray color. Especially in autumn, among the orange and red colored vine leaves and the dry yellow fronds of ferns interspersed with many blackish stems, the tiger can hardly be seen even at a closer distance.”Vladimir Arsenyev
The basic color of the upper side varies between golden yellow and red-orange depending on the subspecies. The underside as well as parts of the face and the inner sides of the legs are white or light beige. The back of the ears is black and has a clearly conspicuous white marking. Striking dark horizontal stripes extend from the head over the entire rump to the tip of the tail. The tail appears ringed as a result. The legs are similarly striped, although the forelegs often show a marked reduction in stripes. The different subspecies of the tiger differ partly considerably in the expression of the fur coloring. As a rule, the tigers of the Siberian subspecies are the lightest colored. However, many Bengal tigers from north or central India are almost of equally bright color. Darkest and most strongly colored are usually the tigers of Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula. Intermediary in the coloring are or were obviously the South Chinese and Caspian tigers. The tigers of the northern populations differ beyond that by a larger portion of the white areas. Tigers from the south of the distribution area possess usually many very dark and often also quite wide stripes, which often disintegrate at their ends in groups of spots. Such spots occur more rarely with northern tigers. The Caspian tigers from Near Asia had relatively narrow, thin stripes against it as a rule. Bengal tigers, which can be quite bright from time to time, differ from old Siberian tigers approximately by the fact that their flank stripes are intensely black, while they are usually gray or brown with the northern form. These geographic differences, however, are countered by a high degree of variability within populations. The nose of the tiger is generally pink, but shows increased black spots with age.
The coat is relatively short in most forms, but dense and long-haired in Siberian tigers because of the cold climate. The length of the hair of a Bengal Tiger is about 8 to 15 mm in summer, with the hair on the belly being longer at 20 to 30 mm. In contrast, the hair of a Siberian Tiger measures 15 to 17 mm on the back and 25 to 45 mm on the belly in summer. The Bengal Tiger’s back hairs are 17 to 25 mm long in winter, and the belly hairs are 25 to 40 mm long. The hair of the Siberian tiger reaches a length of 25 to 40 mm on the back and 70 to 105 mm on the belly during the cold season. The body hairs of the Sumatratiger become only about 10 to 15 mm long. However, the long neck mane and the pronounced whiskers in the males of this subspecies are striking.
At least in zoological gardens, all subspecies develop a winter coat of topcoat and undercoat, with hair length and density varying between subspecies and climatic conditions. The summer coat is much shorter and less dense, especially in the Siberian subspecies. The hair density of about 1800 hairs per square centimeter in Bengal tigers and 3200 in Siberian tigers in winter is comparable to that of leopards, although lynxes reach much higher hair densities of up to 9000 per square centimeter. In spring, the long winter coat is replaced by a short summer coat. The impression of a second hair change with northern tigers in the autumn might be explainable by the fact that the summer fur grows out longer in the autumn. Whether tigers in India also carry out a hair change, is not quite clear. Also the claws are changed regularly. They first peel off in layers and then fall off. During this time, the tiger often scratches in soft tree bark.
There are, as with most vertebrates, deviant color variants, whose peculiarity is less relevant from a biological than from a cultural-historical point of view, since they were bred by local rulers as preciousnesses and are still considered attractions in shows (for example, Siegfried and Roy). White tigers are particularly well known. These animals are not true albinos, but “partial albinos” (leucism), recognizable among other things by the fact that they lack the red eyes of an albino, instead the eyes are usually blue. Most of these white tigers have dark stripes; rarer are white tigers without stripes. Many white tigers known today trace their origin to a male captured in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh in 1951. Since color variation is inherited recessively according to Mendelian rules, inbreeding was a much-used means of breeding white tigers in the early days. Contrary to what is often claimed, however, white tigers are not fundamentally a product of inbreeding. Since then, no white tigers have been observed in the wild. Another color variant, which is also very rare in the wild, is the so-called redling (Rufino), which lacks the black pigment of the stripes. Such an animal is described approximately from the Elbursgebirge, another from Assam. Such colored animals appeared later also in the offspring of tigers in captivity and are also known under the name “golden tigers”. They possess a pale-yellow basic color with light-brown stripe. Tigers of this color variation are bred similar to white tigers especially in amusement parks and with showmen. The color play types, which live today in captivity, go back above all to Bengal tigers. Partly Siberian tigers were crossed in thereby, which is why the often propagated “breeding successes” do not represent a contribution to the protection of these subspecies.
Beside white and golden tigers, reports exist about almost black or blue-gray copies. Besides, there are further individual peculiarities in the fur pattern of individual tigers. Thus, some tigers tend to a strong stripe reduction in particular in the area of the front body part.
Size varies greatly between subspecies. Within a subspecies, males are recognizably larger and more heavily built than females. Large male tigers of the Siberian or Indian subspecies usually reach a head trunk length of 2 m maximum. In addition, a tail of at least 90 cm. The total length is thus about 3 m. Females of the Bengal tiger are a little over 250 cm long with tail, females of the Amur tiger about 260 cm long, with about 165 to 178 cm on the head trunk length. Sumatran tigers, which represent the smallest living subspecies, reach a total length of 240 to 250 cm (males) and 215 to 230 cm (females), respectively. Head-torso length is 155 to 170 cm (males) and 145 to 155 cm (females), respectively. The smallest form of the tiger, the extinct Balitiger, might have reached a total length of approximately 220 to 225 cm with males and a total length of approximately 190 to 200 cm with females.
The withers height of Siberian tiger males is about 97 to 105 cm when standing. Males of the Bengal Tiger and the Indochinatiger are somewhat smaller with about 90 to 100 cm at the withers. Males of the Sumatran tiger measure against it only about 75 to 79 cm, those of the Chinese tiger about 82 to 86 cm. Female Amur, Bengal and Indochina tigers grow to about 78 to 87 cm in height. Female Sumatratiger reach a withers height of only 66 to 68 cm.
Occasionally also data exist over tigers, whose size goes clearly beyond the known spectrum. For example, maximum head-torso lengths of 290 cm or total lengths of almost 4 m are reported for tigers. However, such extreme values should be based to a large extent on exaggerations, estimations or on measurements, with which the length of the animal was determined over curves, thus measured over all body bends. In addition, skins can be extremely stretched, which can lead to very high values when measured. The longest known Caspian tiger is a male, which was killed 1939 at the Ili river and in straight distance from the nose to the tail point measured (between pegs) a length of 295 cm had. The head-torso length accounted for 197 cm and the tail for 98 cm. One of the largest credibly surviving total lengths between pegs for a Bengal Tiger is 312.5 cm. The average total length of large Indian male tigers is about 280 cm. A giant Siberian male tiger that originated in the Sichote-Alin area and died in the Duisburg Zoo in 1965 measured 319 cm between pegs, of which 99 cm was the tail. The largest credibly delivered value for the total length of a Siberian tiger amounts to 350 cm over curves, from which a real total length over pegs of approximately 330 to 335 cm results. The animal was killed in northeast China in 1943.
Based on measurements, the total length of an adult male lion averages 274 cm and rarely exceeds 290 cm. Accordingly, although Siberian tiger and Royal Bengal tiger are considered the largest cats in the world, in fact, lions are not smaller than tigers, the length of the trunk of the head is almost identical, but tigers have a longer tail.
Adult males of the Sumatran tiger weigh about 100 to 140 kg, females between 75 and 110 kg. Male Bengal tigers in Nepal weigh about 200 to 240 kg, females about 125 to 160 kg. According to Vratislav Mazák, the highest credible value for the weight of a Bengal tiger is 258 kg. The animal was shot in the Terai in India. Another large male of this subspecies weighed 256 kg. According to Mazák, the average weight of Indian male tigers should fluctuate around 190 kg. The highest credible value for a Caspian tiger is 240 kg and was obtained from an animal shot on the Ili River. The highest value for a Siberian tiger is at 306.5 kg, which is the highest credibly documented value of a tiger at all. It was a male named Circa that was captured as a cub in the Ussuri region and died at the age of ten in a menagerie. Data about Siberian tigers with a body weight of clearly over 300 kg are not verifiable. Mazák gives as an average value for the body weight of adult Siberian tigers about 230 kg. The extinct Balitiger presumably reached only a body weight of 90 to 100 kg (male) and 65 to 80 kg (female). Java tigers were somewhat larger with a body weight of about 130 to 135 kg (male) and about 100 kg (female).
Skull and dentition
Like other big cats, the tiger has a round pupil. The iris is usually yellow. The massive skull of the tiger, like other big cats, is more elongated than that of small cats. It is similar in size to that of the lion and can hardly be distinguished from a lion skull. In the construction of the nose bone smaller differences exist, likewise in the construction of the lower jaw. This is with the tiger at the underside rather concave, while that of the lion is rather convex bent. The skull length amounts to with big tiger males on the average 350 to 360 mm. The skull lengths of larger female tigers lie with approximately 290 to 310 mm, with Sumatratiger only skull lengths of 295 to 340 mm (male) and/or 263 to 293 mm (female). The skull length of full-grown, male Balitiger amounted to only approx. 295 mm, that of the females approx. 265. The brain of the tiger holds about 250 to 300 cm³.
The permanent dentition contains 30 teeth, with a dental formula similar to that of other recent cats:
In this case, the first upper molar (molar tooth) is very small or often missing altogether. The same applies to the first upper premolar. The canines (canini) are the most conspicuous, protruding up to 70 mm from the gum in the upper jaw. The lower canines are slightly shorter. The fangs are set by the fourth upper premolar and the first lower molar and are 34 to 38 mm and 26 to 29 mm long, respectively, in adult tigers.
Skeleton and internal organs
The skeleton is a typical cat skeleton and can hardly be distinguished from that of a lion. Only at the humerus (upper arm bone) slight differences are to be made out. The tiger possesses a retractable, sickle-shaped claw at each toe of the front paw. These can reach 80 to 100 mm on the outside and are hidden in skin sheaths when at rest. On the hind foot, the visible four toes also have retractable claws. The spine of the tiger consists of 55 to 56 vertebrae, the rib cage of 13 pairs of ribs. A tiger heart weighs about 600 to 1100 g, the intestine measures about 7 m. Amur tigers usually put on a thick layer of fat in winter, the thickness of which is about 5 cm on the flanks.
The chromosome set of the tiger, as in other Old World cats, consists of 18 pairs of autosomes and two sex chromosomes, resulting in a diploid set of 38 chromosomes.
The stride length of the tiger varies from 70 cm in males to 60 cm in females. The size of the paw prints is highly dependent on the substrate. The front paws of a very large male tiger leave an imprint about 14 to 17 cm long and 13 to 16 cm wide in moist clay. The tread marks of female tigers measure 12 to 14 cm in length, 11 to 13 cm in width under these conditions. In snow, especially fresh snow, the tracks can be significantly larger.
Up to nine subspecies are currently distinguished, three of which are already extirpated. The subspecies status of P. t. jacksoni in Peninsular Malaysia is disputed; it is listed as a distinct subspecies in the following listing. Genetic analyses support the subdivision of the extant forms into six distinct subspecies according to the scheme presented here. Thereby, the subspecies of the Asian mainland seem to differ relatively little from each other, while relatively big genetic differences exist to the tigers of the island Sumatra. The tigers of Sumatra Island were probably separated from those of the mainland between 6,000 and 12,000 years ago, when sea levels rose at the end of the last cold period and the former land bridge sank. In particular, the differences between the extinct Caspian tiger and the Amur tiger are so slight that the two should possibly be combined into one subspecies.
Since 2015, after the examination of more than 200 skulls by an international team of researchers, it is discussed whether only a subdivision into two subspecies should be made, since only the Sunda tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica) from the Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali and the mainland tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) would be genetically clearly distinguishable.
- Siberian tiger, Amur or Ussuri tiger (P. t. altaica); the largest subspecies of the tiger was once widespread over eastern Siberia, Manchuria and Korea. The fur is relatively light and particularly long and dense. Due to massive re-enactment, the population was reduced in the meantime to about 30 animals in the Sino-Russian and Sino-Korean border areas; this population has now grown again to about 350 to 400 individuals, but is still highly endangered.
- South China tiger (P. t. amoyensis); medium-sized subspecies, somewhat smaller than Bengal or Indochina tigers, the coloration is more intense, the white portion smaller. Stripes are usually very dark and relatively widely spaced. Once common in large parts of China from the 38th to 40th° north latitude southward to the northern border areas of Yunnan, Guangxi and Guangdong. Today, some specimens, if any, still live in the mountains of Guangdong. These possible remnant populations are unlikely to have realistic chances of survival, even if conservation measures take effect, as such a small population is unlikely to survive (see inbreeding depression). Populations in zoos, and thus a breeding program, were established late and are limited almost exclusively to Chinese zoos. However, the zoo population increased from 57 to 72 animals between 2005 and 2007. Reintroductions with zoo-born animals are planned. The Save China’s Tigers Foundation is working to breed and hunt South China tigers outside of China in a reserve in South Africa, with the goal of later reintroducing them to their original habitat.
- Bengal tiger, Indian tiger or Royal Bengal tiger (P. t. tigris); the second largest subspecies. Coat coloration relatively variable overall, but usually darker than in the Amur tiger and lighter than in the southeastern subspecies. Stripes are usually very dark. Originally distributed from the Indus lowlands in Pakistan across the Indian subcontinent to Bengal, Assam and the northwestern parts of Myanmar. There are certain genetic differences within the subspecies, especially the tigers of the north differ from other Bengal tigers. Also the Bengal tigers at the west end of the subspecies area show moderate genetic peculiarities. Above all, the animals of the Sariska National Park, where tigers were exterminated in 2004, were genetically very similar to those from the neighboring Ranthambhore National Park. This makes the tigers from Ranthambore the best candidates for a possible future reintroduction in Sariska. Today, the Bengal tiger still occurs in isolated remnants in India, Bangladesh, parts of Bhutan and Nepal, and western Myanmar. Today it is assumed that there are less than 2500 Bengal tigers living in the wild, of which by far the largest part, about 1400 (as of 2008), live in India. The significantly higher population numbers of the 2001 to 2002 counts cannot be directly compared due to the different methods used. However, the more recent results are considered more reliable. The Bengal tiger is considered threatened, but is less endangered than the other subspecies; species conservationists have repeatedly warned of the Indian tiger’s impending extinction in India and neighboring countries. Despite an international ban, criminal organizations engage in a vibrant trade in tiger pelts.
- Indochinese tiger, Indochina tiger, also hind Indian tiger or Corbett tiger (P. t. corbetti); somewhat smaller than the Bengal tiger, basic coloration somewhat darker, the usually very dark stripes often turn into spots. The subspecies is distributed in mainland Southeast Asia, where it occurs from the Chinese provinces of Yunnan, Guangxi and Guangdong, and northern Myanmar southward to the Malacca Peninsula. There are probably only 350 specimens left, surviving in Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and small numbers in Vietnam, among other places. The Malay Peninsula population may represent its own subspecies and is listed separately as the Malayan Tiger.
- Malayan tiger, Malayan tiger, or Jackson’s tiger (P. t. jacksoni); common on the Malay Peninsula and also critically endangered; the distinctness of this subspecies, previously included with the Indochinese tiger, is still disputed. There are genetic differences between the Malay Peninsula populations and the more northern populations, but there do not appear to be differences in coat pattern or skull structure. Also, the populations transition smoothly northward into those of the Indochinatiger. The Malay Peninsula is home to approximately 250 individuals, according to the latest IUCN information.
- Caspian tiger, Persian tiger or Turantiger (P. t. virgata); an extinct subspecies, which stood out above all by the usually many, narrow stripes from the Amur tiger. The stripes were usually quite light, the fur relatively long. Originally wide distribution from Anatolia over Iran and Central Asia to Mongolia. Early on, the Caspian tiger was extirpated from much of this area; it is now extinct both in the wild and in captivity; the last held in southwest Asia until the early 1970s. Recent molecular biology studies indicate that the subspecies is identical to the Siberian tiger and that the range of the two populations may have been separated only by humans.
- Sumatran tiger (P. t. sumatrae); relatively small, contrasting colored subspecies, stripes often decay to spots. At the same time smallest of the surviving subspecies. The long whiskers of the males are conspicuous. As the only island subspecies the Sumatran tiger could survive until today; there are still 400 individuals in remote regions of Sumatra. The IUCN lists the subspecies as “Critically Endangered”.
- Java tiger (P. t. sondaica); even smaller than the Sumatran tiger and similarly dark colored. Stripes very narrow and numerous. Once common on Java, the most densely populated island in Indonesia, this subspecies was last recorded in the 1970s and is considered extirpated.
- Balitiger (P. t. balica); the smallest subspecies. Even darker colored than Sumatran tigers and most Javan tigers. Stripe pattern rather broad and more similar to that of the sumatratiger than to that of the java tiger. Frequent lines of darker spots between stripes. Originally endemic to Bali, the subspecies was extirpated by excessive hunting and habitat destruction in the 1940s.
The present range of the tiger extends from India eastward to China and Southeast Asia and northward beyond the Amur River into eastern Siberia. In the southeast, it advances up to Indonesia, where it lives in the island Sumatra. On Java, the tiger still occurred until the 1970s. Until the 1930s, he even reached the island of Bali. From Borneo the tiger is occupied from the Pleistocene and by subfossil finds from the Holocene. Once tigers were also widespread west of India in the Near East and Central Asia, but the species has most likely been extinct here since the 1970s.
Area losses and today’s distribution
Especially due to the increasing settlement of many areas as well as increased hunting, which decimated both tiger and prey populations, the tiger suffered drastic losses of territory since the late 19th century. An early victim was the tigers of the island of Bali. The last specimen of the Balitiger is proven from the year 1937. In the southern Caucasus area and in Transkaukasien tigers were still relatively frequent up to the beginning of the 20th century, then the continuances decreased strongly and became extinct around the middle of the 20th century completely. Only single animals immigrated later still occasionally from Iran over the Talyschgebirge into the Caucasus. The last ones may have taken this route in the 1960s. From most parts of the Russian tsar empire the tiger disappeared at the end of the 19th century or at the beginning of the 20th century. At the lower Ili river some tigers still lived in 1936. At the Syr Darya the last one was registered in the year 1945, at the Ili in the year 1948. The longest tigers stayed in the south of the former Soviet Union in the border area to Afghanistan. In the southern area of the Amu Darya region near the mouth of the Wachsch, in the area of the Tigrowaja-Balka nature reserve, as well as in the neighboring valley of the Pjandsch tigers still raised their offspring in the 1930s. Around 1950, however, only single specimens lived there. Since the 1950s to 1960s, the tiger seems to be extinct in the western part of the former Soviet Union, most likely also in Afghanistan. He held himself longest in the southeast of Turkey where single animals survived until the 1970s. Today it is considered extinct throughout the Near East, thus the Caspian tiger is extinct as a subspecies. The Javanese subspecies of the tiger probably also died out in the 1970s. From China, the tiger has almost completely disappeared today. In all other occurrence areas, the spread-area shrank also in the course of the 20th century up to few island-like relict-populations together.
Also in the recent past the tiger lost further at ground. Between 1995 and 2005 alone, the tiger’s range in Asia shrank by 40%, so that today the animals populate only seven percent of their original habitat. One finds tigers today only in the far east of Russia as well as adjacent parts of north China, furthermore on the Indian subcontinent and in remote regions of Southeast Asia from the Chinese province Yunnan in the north to the Malay peninsula in the south. The only larger island, on which tigers still occur, is Sumatra. More exact data to the today’s distribution find themselves under the chapter continuance.
The population of the tiger has completely collapsed in the 20th century. In 1920, it was still assumed that there were about 100,000 tigers worldwide. In the 1970s, however, the estimates amounted to only about 4000 wild animals. The Java tiger as well as the Caspian tiger died out completely around this time. The Balitiger was already extinct in the 1930s. Around the middle of the 20th century also the wild population of the Amur tiger stood shortly before the end. The wild population of this northernmost tiger breed amounted to about 20 to 30 animals in 1947. Thanks mainly to various conservation projects, such as the WWF’s Project Tiger, populations in eastern Siberia and India have apparently recovered somewhat or remained largely stable in subsequent years. In other areas, however, populations continued to decline.
Around the year 2000, the total population was estimated at 5000 to 7000 animals. Since then, the wild populations of the tiger have dwindled even further. Today, it is assumed that there are still about 4500 wild tigers worldwide (as in 2022). In part, however, the current lower estimates are due to more accurate counting methods. The IUCN lists the total population of the tiger as “critically endangered” (Endangered). The tiger is extinct in Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, North Korea, Pakistan, Singapore, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Way of life
Tigers are mostly active at dusk or night, but occasionally go hunting during the day. Tigers often travel great distances in search of prey. This is especially true for tigers in prey-poor areas such as eastern Siberia. There, the cats roam about 20 to 25 km in the day, in exceptional cases even 80 to 100 km. Apart from these marches within the precinct, particularly wide hikes are noticeable if the animals obviously look for new residential areas. On this occasion, the animals remove themselves sometimes several hundred kilometers from their ancestral precincts. Tigers swim excellently and go in contrast to other cats like lions or leopards gladly into the water. Thereby the big cats can swim through rivers of 6 to 8 km width, in exceptional cases even of 29 km width. In contrast, tigers are relatively poor climbers due to their size. As a rule, they climb unwillingly bigger trees, however, they are able to it in the emergency what could be documented for instance in the case of wild dog attacks or with a storm tide in the Sundarbans in the year 1969. As camp place serve the tiger protected places within the patrol area. These can be fallen trees, thickets or caves.
The tiger inhabits a multiplicity of different habitats, from tropical rain forests and mangrove swamps over savannah and swamp areas up to moderate and boreal coniferous, deciduous and mixed forests. In the Near East, the tiger inhabited deciduous forests and scrublands, as well as the riverine forests between dry areas. In China, subtropical mountain forests are also among the natural habitats. Tigers usually stay in areas below 2000 m. In Kazakhstan the animals hunted sometimes on 2500 m, in the Himalaya tigers were proven even in 4000 m height. In the Far East of Russia, the cats prefer the mixed forests of the lower altitudes. In the north of the Indian subcontinent, the humid Terai areas, consisting of high grasslands, swamps and riverine forests, are important habitats today. In southern and central India, they are found primarily in sal forests interspersed with grassy clearings, but also in true briar forests such as those found in Ranthambhore National Park. In the Sundarbans, tigers live in extensive mangrove swamps, in Assam and Southeast Asia in humid forests. Against cold especially Siberian tigers are very insensitive. Areas with snow covers of 30 cm and more are however unsuitable for tigers, presumably also because the wild boar does not occur there. Ultimately, the tiger is very adaptable in terms of habitat, but is dependent on a certain amount of cover, sufficient prey and access to water.
Territoriality and population density
Tigers are generally solitary animals, so males and females normally come together only briefly to mate. However, since young tigers stay with their mothers for up to three years, females are almost always found in the company of young or juvenile tigers. Families consisting of both parents and offspring are rarely observed.
As a rule, only those animals that have a territory reproduce. By marking with urine they demarcate the territory, the size of which in the case of female tigers depends on the availability of prey. The territory of a male usually overlaps with that of several (two to seven) females. In the Chitwan national park with a booty animal biomass of approximately 2000 kg/km², the patrol area of a tiger female covers on the average 23 km², that of a male on the average 68 km². In the relatively prey-poor deciduous forests of the Sichote-Alin Reserve in Far East Russia, where the average prey biomass is about 400 kg/km², the territory of a female tiger covers about 200 to 400 km². Although territories may partially overlap, average territory sizes reflect the population density of tigers in an area. In India’s Kanha National Park, about ten to 15 animals live in an area of 320 km². In the Chitwan national park in Nepal live on the average about eight tigers on 100 km². In the Kaziranga national park even over 16 tigers per 100 km² find a living, in Nagarhole after all about 13 to 15. In contrast to it live in the far east of Russia depending upon kind of the habitat only about 0.5 to 1.4 tigers on 100 km². The tropical forests of Malaysia, Sumatra and Laos are characterized as a rule also by very low prey densities. Here, also the population densities of the tigers are particularly low. However, the extremely big streak areas of the Siberian tigers do not seem to be to be led back only on the relatively low booty animal densities, but also on human readjustments. Thus, young tiger females in the Sichote-Alin reserve usually settled in the mother’s territory if no losses occurred due to human re-enactments. On the other hand, if the failure rate was high, they occupied their own territories. Accordingly, the potential territory size required for a female in this area is probably well below the actual one of about 400 square kilometers. As territorial animals, tigers normally defend their territory against conspecifics of the same sex. The territory is marked by urine, which is sprayed against trees or bushes with the tail erect. Also scratch marks, which leave tigers frequently at trees, could serve this purpose. That the roaring also serves for the precinct marking, as it is the case with the lion, might be rather improbable, since tigers roar very rarely. Female tigers often occupy a territory in direct neighborhood to that of their mother, which leads to the fact that the tiger females of an area are often similarly closely related as the lionesses of a pride. Male tigers, on the other hand, wander around trying to find an orphaned territory or to drive off another male in a fight.
Tigers in tropical habitats do not know a preferred breeding season. In the Amur region, however, most cubs are born in the spring. When the female is ready to mate, she sets scent marks more frequently. In captivity, females are ready to conceive for about five days. In the wild, however, pairs are usually together for only two days. During this time, the animals mate frequently, about 17 to 52 times per day. However, the mating act is quite short. During mating, the female lies on the ground while the male stands over her and grasps her neck with his dentition. The females are often very aggressive afterwards, hissing and striking at the male with their paws.
If the mating is unsuccessful, the female will come into heat again about a month later. After a successful mating, the female usually gives birth to two to five young after a gestation period of about 103 days, with an average of three. Litters of only one or up to seven young occasionally occur. The female chooses a sheltered spot in a thicket, tall grass, between rock crevices, or in a den as her natal roost. The young are initially blind and helpless and weigh only 785 to 1610 g. During the first weeks, the female always stays in the immediate vicinity of the camp. Once the young become older and more mobile after two to three months, the female gradually increases her roaming area. After about six months, the young are weaned but are not yet able to hunt on their own. After about twelve to 18 months, they lose their milk teeth. At about this age, they are physically able to hunt. After 18 to 20 months, the young are usually independent, but then stay in the mother’s territory for some time. Migration usually coincides with the birth of the new litter. During a study in Chitwan National Park, males migrated an average of 33 km away, while females settled only about 10 km from their mother’s territory. In the process, of ten male tigers studied, only four managed to successfully occupy a territory of their own. Female tigers have their first offspring on average at just over three years of age, males at just under five years. Females are reproductive on average about six years, at best about twelve years. Accordingly, female tigers that reach sexual maturity reach an average age of about 9 years in the wild. Due to high cub mortality, a female raises an average of only about four to five cubs to independence in her lifetime. The average life expectancy of a tiger in captivity is 16 to 18 years. Rarely, the animals reach an age of 20 to 25 years.
Tigers feed mainly on large mammals, which are usually stalked and overwhelmed after a short spurt. Ungulates such as deer, wild cattle and wild boar are the main prey, a smaller part of the diet is also smaller mammals such as hares and rabbits, furthermore birds, but also reptiles up to larger crocodiles. The tiger can hunt in the solo also so powerful animals like Gaurbullen.
As an apex predator, the tiger has few natural enemies throughout its range. It is sometimes claimed that the Asian wild dog is capable of snatching tigers in packs. This can apply however only to old, weak or young tigers. As a real enemy, the wild dog cannot be considered. Wolves seem to be rather kept short by the tiger than he would have to fear them. Young and half-grown tigers are killed occasionally by brown bears. Adult tigers always go bears out of the way. Beyond that still the Asiatic lion would come into consideration as a potential enemy, which reaches a similar size and lives in herds. However, since the ranges of these animals no longer overlap, the lion is neither a natural enemy nor a competitor of the tiger. The habitat requirements of both species are also distinctly different, with the lion preferring more open habitats. Tigers carry parasites, but diseases and illnesses of wild tigers have hardly been researched.
Similarly as the lion in the European or African culture area is called “king of the animals”, a similar meaning comes to the tiger in Asian cultures. Attributes such as “king of the jungle”, “tsar of the taiga” or “ruler of all animals” emphasize the position this cat holds in the perception of human societies. With individual tribes the tiger had the status of a deity up to the recent past. In the western culture area the tiger was represented against it for a long time rather as bloodthirsty and dangerous. Today, thanks to its beauty and its emblematic strength, the tiger is one of the world’s most popular wild animals and carries very high sympathy values as a symbol of the wilderness, which could benefit the protection of the species. Furthermore, the tiger represents a so-called flagship species. These species, which usually attract a lot of media attention, help conservation projects to gain greater acceptance, support and priority. In the process, other species of the same habitat can also benefit from the tiger’s popularity in the sense of a “rockzipfeleffect”.
Because of its strength, size and agility, the tiger has impressed humans since prehistoric times. The earliest representation of a tiger is known from official seals of the Indus culture in today’s Pakistan and comes from the time about 5000 years ago. The tiger appears in illustrations thereby clearly after the first representations of lions, whose oldest already before approximately 30,000 years developed. In Hinduism the tiger plays an important role. Thus the goddess Durga rides on a tiger, while Shiva sits on a tiger skin. The tiger also found its way into Buddhism and adorns various shrines and temples.
In the cultures of the East, such as India and China, the tiger has long played an important role, similar to that of the lion in the antiquity of the Mediterranean area. On Proto-Indian monuments of the second millennium B.C., for example, relief depictions of tigers are known. These often show a hero wrestling with two tigers and seem to be analogous to the legendary hero Gilgamesh. But also in the Scythian art of the Euro-Asian steppe cultures, especially between 1000 and 500 BC, the tiger was frequently depicted. In the art of the Mesopotamian and small-Asian peoples of the antiquity the tiger does not occur against it. In the old-Iranian art the tiger is a relatively rare motive, although the cat occurred here. In ancient Greece, and thus in Europe, tigers became known only through the campaigns of Alexander the Great (330-325 BC) to Asia. A little later the first tiger arrived in Athens as a gift of the king Seleukos I.. At that time, lions still occurred in the wild in Greece, which explains why this cat is much closer to Western culture than the tiger.