While all wild felids are extraordinary creatures, there is one that stands above them all (literally). It is beautiful and terrifying, powerful and threatened: the tiger (Panthera tigris). This post is an introduction to this most majestic of cats.
- Panthera tigris altaica: The Amur tiger of eastern Russia.
- P. t. tigris: The Royal Bengal tiger of the Indian subcontinent.
- P. t. corbetti: The Indochinese tiger of Indochina.
- P. t. sumatrae: The Sumatran tiger of Sumatra.
- P. t. jacksoni: The Malayan tiger of the Malayan Peninsula (Goodrich et al., 2015). There is some debate about whether this subspecies is genetically “real” (Hunter, 2015).
Tigers can weigh between 75-260 kg (165-570 lbs) (Panthera, 2015d), making them the world’s largest cat. However, their size varies considerably by sex and across their range (Hunter, 2015; Macdonald et al., 2010). The heaviest wild tiger ever recorded was a Bengal tiger that weighed 261 kg (575 lbs), whereas Sumatran tigers only reach 140 kg (308 lbs) (Hunter, 2015).
Since tigers are tigers, they are capable of taking down nearly any animal they encounter. In Russia this even includes brown bears (Hunter, 2015; Miller et al., 2013). Only adult Asian elephants and rhinos are safe from this mighty cat (Hunter, 2015).
The tiger’s range collapse is almost unbelievable. At one point, their territory stretched from Turkey to the Russian far east (Goodrich et al., 2015; Macdonald et al., 2010; Hunter, 2015). Tigers are now restricted to just 4% of their former range (Panthera, 2015d).
There are known breeding populations of Panthera tigris in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Russia, Bhutan, Malaysia, Nepal, and Thailand. There may also be tigers in Myanmar, China, and North Korea (Goodrich et al., 2015).
Tigers are the most threatened of all big cats (Hunter, 2015). There may now be as few as few as 3,200 tigers left in the wild (Panthera, 2015d), with 70% of them occurring in less than 0.5% of their historic range. As such, they are listed as endangered throughout the world; with Malayan and Sumatran tigers being classified as critically endangered (Hunter, 2015).
The greatest threat to wild tigers is poaching for the Traditional Asian Medicine (TAM) trade. Tiger body parts are believed to have special properties: curing everything from inflammation (Goodrich et al., 2015) to epilepsy (Panthera, 2015d). This illegal trade has proven hard to reduce, despite the fact that the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies (WCMS) has stated that tiger parts are not required for personal health (Loveridge, Wang, Frank, & Seidensticker, 2010).
Besides poaching, the other major threats to tigers are habitat loss and fragmentation, prey depletion, and human-tiger conflict (HTC) (Goodrich et al., 2015; Panthera, 2015d). The latter can take the form of attacks on people, which is a serious problem in some areas (Barlow, Ahmad, & Smith, 2013).
Effectively protecting known breeding populations of tigers is the most urgent conservation priority (Panthera 2015c; Walston et al., 2010). This will involve curtailing poaching through increased law enforcement (Panthera, 2015d), reducing the demand for tiger parts, lessening the severity of HTC, and preventing the overhunting of prey (Goodrich et al., 2015).
But this alone will not be enough. It is also necessary to make sure existing protected areas are connected through biological corridors that allow tigers to move throughout the landscape (Harihar & Pandav, 2012; Wikramanayake et al., 2011; Yumnam et al., 2014).
Panthera tigris’ situation is grim, but it is not hopeless. If enough of us unite to protect this most charismatic of species, we can reverse their decline. By raising awareness about their plight, talking about how awesome they are, donating to worthy NGOs, and making it socially unacceptable to trade in tiger parts; we can ensure that future generations will be able to share the world with this most magnificent of cats.
Goodrich, J., Lynam, A., Miquelle, D., Wibisono, H., Kawanishi, K., Pattanavibool, A., … Karanth, U. (2015). Panthera tigris. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T15955A50659951. Retrieved from http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/full/15955/0.
Hunter, L. (2015). Wild cats of the world. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
Macdonald, D. W. & Loveridge, A. J. (2010). Biology and conservation of wild felids. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Panthera. (2015d). Tiger. Retrieved from https://www.panthera.org/cat/tiger.