Kingdom of Tigers

The tiger (Panthera tigris), a member of the Felidae family, is the largest of the four "big cats" in the genus Panthera. Native to much of eastern and southern Asia, the tiger is an apex predator and an obligate carnivore. 

Reaching up to 3.3 metres (11 ft) in total length, weighing up to 300 kilograms (660 pounds), and having canines up to 4 inches long, the larger tiger subspecies are comparable in size to the biggest extinct felids. Tigers have a lifespan of 10–15 years in the wild, but can live longer than 20 years in captivity.

They are territorial and generally solitary animals, often requiring large contiguous areas of habitat that support their prey demands. This, coupled with the fact that they are indigenous to some of the more densely populated places on earth, has caused significant conflicts with humans.

Tigers are easy to recognise. They typically have rusty-reddish to brown-rusty coats, a whitish medial and ventral area, a white "fringe" that surrounds the face, and stripes that vary from brown or gray to pure black.

The oldest remains of a tiger-like cat, called Panthera palaeosinensis, have been found in China and Java. This species lived about 2 million years ago, at the beginning of the Pleistocene, and was smaller than a modern tiger. 

The earliest fossils of true tigers are known from Java, and are between 1.6 and 1.8 million years old. Distinct fossils from the early and middle Pleistocene were also discovered in deposits from China, and Sumatra. A subspecies called the Trinil tiger (Panthera tigris trinilensis) lived about 1.2 million years ago and is known from fossils found at Trinil in Java.

Three of the nine subspecies of modern tiger have gone extinct, and the remaining six are classified as endangered, some critically so. The primary direct causes are habitat destruction, fragmentation and hunting.

It is estimated that only between 500-600 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild, and the actual number may be as low as 400. And their population is dwindling rapidly.

In 1978 a tiger census reported around 1,000 Sumatran tigers still in the wild. This means over the last 25 years, the population of Sumatran tigers has been cut in half. The Sumatran tiger is considered to be a ‘critically’ endangered species. The Sumatran tiger is found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra off the Malaysian Peninsula. Their habitat ranges from lowland forest to mountain forest and includes evergreen, swamp and tropical rain forests.

In recent years Sumatra has seen a great deal of agricultural growth and this has fragmented the tigers habitat. Most of the remaining Sumatran tigers now live in five National Parks, two Game Reserves, though around 100 live in an unprotected area that will most likely be lost to agriculture in the near future.

This destruction of habitat is considered the greatest threat to the survival of the Sumatran tiger, followed by poaching. The tigers are especially vulnerable to poaching in the ‘unprotected’ areas.

The Bengal tiger, or Royal Bengal tiger, roams a wide range of habitats including high altitudes, tropical and subtropical rainforests, mangroves, and grasslands. They are primarily found in parts of India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Male Bengal tigers measure 8 to 10 ft (2 to 3m) in length, and can weigh from 440-650 lb (200-300kg). Female Bengal tigers measure from around 8 to almost 9 ft (2.5 to 2.6 m) and weigh in around 220 to 400 lb (100 to 181 kg). All white tigers are a variation in color of the Bengal tiger, some tigers have been reported that are white with or without black stripes.

Bengal tigers hunt medium and large-sized animals, such as wild boar, badgers, water buffaloes, deer goats and have been know to prey on small elephants and rhino calves. They are know for their power and in one incident a Bengal tiger was reported dragging away a dead gaur which 13 men were not able to move.  Bengal tigers hunt mostly at night, killing their prey by severing the spinal cord, or by inflicting a suffocation bite (usually for larger prey).

As with other species of tigers, habitat loss and poaching are key threats to the survival of the Bengal tiger. They are not only killed for their skin and for their body parts which are used to make traditional Asian medicines.

It is estimated fewer than 1,500 Indochinese tigers are left in the wild. However since the tiger has a very wide range, it makes it difficult for researchers to determine the exact numbers. Therefore some scientists believe the numbers may be a few as 1,200.

Indochinese tigers are located across southern China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia Laos, Thailand and eastern Burma. Their habitat is mostly made up of remote forests and hilly or mountainous terrain. Their diets mainly consist of wild pig, wild deer and wild cattle.

The adult Indochinese tiger males are somewhere between 8-9.5 feet long and females, 7-8.5 feet long. Males weigh 330 to 430 pounds and females, 221 to 287 pounds.

Hunting for trophies, poaching by farmers, and the growing demand for tiger bones in Oriental medicine are key factors for the Indochinese tigers decline. Habitat loss due to population growth is also a major concern.

According to some reports, almost three-quarters of the Indochinese tigers killed end up in Chinese pharmacies for Chinese Traditional Medicines. It is thought the Indochinese tiger is disappearing faster than any other tiger sub-species with one tiger being killed each week by poachers.

It is estimated the wild population of Siberian tigers at around 350-450 tigers. Almost all wild Siberian tigers live the Southeast corner of Russia in the Sikhote-Alin mountain range east of the Amur River. Their former range included northeastern China and the Korean Peninsula, and as far west as Mongolia. They are the largest of the tiger species and can grow up to 13 feet in length and weigh up to 700 lbs.

The Siberian –or Amur- tiger is considered a critically endangered species with the primary threats to its' survival in the wild being poaching and habitat loss from intensive logging and development.
In 1993 the State Council of the People's Republic of China issued a notice declaring the use of tiger bone for medicinal purposes to be illegal. The Chinese government encouraged the Ministry of Public Health and the pharmaceutical companies to seek substitute medicines for tiger parts.

However, because it is such a lucrative trade –a single tiger can bring up to $50k on the International market- the practice is still flourishing. The other vital concern for the survival of the Siberian tiger in the wild is habitat loss.

Research has demonstrated the Siberian tigers require vast forest landscapes to survive. However logging, both legal and illegal is threatening the tigers home by fragmenting their habitat thereby isolating them from each other. In addition, the continuous creation of new logging roads provide poachers with access to formerly remote areas.

So in essence, for the Siberian tiger to survive in the wild, and no longer be considered and endangered species, two things must happen. First, habitat encroachment must stop and secondly, the thousands of years old tradition of using tiger parts for medicinal purposes must also end.

The South China tiger is the smallest of all the tiger subspecies, and it is the most critically endangered. Little is know about their exact numbers in the wild, but some estimates would put the number at under 20 tigers. Others would say that estimate is high. The reality is that no South China tiger has been seen in the wild for the last 20 years.

Yet in the 1970’s, it was estimated there were over 4,000 South China tigers in the wild living mostly in central and eastern China. However they were considered ‘pests’ by the Chinese government and quickly hunted to their current status of being on the brink of extinction.

The captive situation for the South China tiger is not much better than their situation in the wild. According to mid-1990’s documents, there are fewer than 50 South China tigers in captivity. These are all descendents from six wild tigers. An ‘ideal’ captive breeding situation would mean having over 120 tigers descending from 30 wild tigers. The future does not look promising for the South China tiger and it may be the next tiger subspecies to become extinct.

The Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni, Malay: Harimau Belang), found in the southern and central parts of the Malay Peninsula, is a subspecies of tiger found in Thailand and Malaysia. Recent counts showed there are 600–800 Malayan tigers in the wild, making it the most common tiger subspecies other than the Bengal and perhaps also the Indochinese tigers.

The Malayan tiger, along with the Sumatran tiger, is perhaps the smallest extant subspecies of tiger. Its stripe pattern is similar to the Indochinese tiger but its size is closer to the Sumatran tigers, with an average weight of 120 kg for adult males and 100 kg for females. Male Malayan tigers measures around 237 cm in length from head to tail and female Malayan tigress around 200 cm in length.

Tigers occur at very low densities 1.1-1.98 tigers per 100 km² in the rainforest as a result of low prey densities, thus in order to maintain viable tiger populations of minimum of 6 breeding females, reserves need to be larger than 1000 km². Biological/ecological research on the Malayan tiger is still in infancy.

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