The tiger (Panthera tigris) is the largest of felines. It is also the most endangered – its population in the wild has dropped from 100, 000 individuals a century ago to approximately 4000 today.
Common name: Tiger
Latin name: Panthera tigris (Linnaeus, 1758)
Class, order, family: Mammalia, Carnivora, Felidae
189-300 cm (M), 146-177 cm (F)
Tail: 72-109 cm
Wither height: 80-110 cm
Weight: 100-261 kg (M) (exceptionally 325 kg), 75-177 kg (M) and 30-60 kg (F)
Gestation: 95-107 days
Longevity: Up to 12 years (M) and 16 (F) in nature; 26 years in captivity
IUCN category: Endangered (worldwide), Critically Endangered (China, Russia, Sumatra)
Ranking CITES: Appendix I
Species and subspecies: The tiger includes a species Panthera tigris (formerly Felis tigris), subdivided in 6 sub-species (UICN): the Bengal tiger, the Siberian tiger, the Malayan tiger, the Sumatran tiger, the Indochinese tiger, the South China tiger or amoyensis. Three have become extinct over the 80 last years: The Caspian tiger, The Javan tiger and The Bali tiger.
Current distribution: The tiger is currently found only in 11 Asian countries: India, Thailand, Nepal, Bhutan, Malaysia, Russia (Far East), Bangladesh, Indonesia (Sumatra), Myanmar, China and Laos. It reproduces in eight of these countries, and is extinct in 11 others.
Habitats: The tiger is a species adapted to many forest habitats: plains and uplands, wet or dry, with leafy or coniferous trees. Its density is higher in the dry forests of Terai (Indian subcontinent) and lower in the anthropogenic environments (agricultural land, palm groves, monocultures).
Threats: Loss of the habitat (due to agriculture, oil palm plantations), deforestation, poaching to supply the traditional medicine market in Asia, drastic reduction of their natural prey populations (hunted for meat).
Type of conflicts with man: The tiger is famous for being the largest carnivorous killer of men, particularly in India. This is due to high human population densities and the heavy exploitation of the tiger’s habitat. In spite of this, rare are the tigers that actually specialize in manhunts. The conflicts between man and tiger relate mainly to attacks on livestock and pets left unsupervised in the forest.
The Bengal tiger
Scientific name: Panthera tigris tigris
Status (IUCN): Endangered
Population: 1850 individuals
Current distribution: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, China, Nepal, India
The Bengal has been and remains the most widespread tiger. In 1900, more than 40,000 individuals lived throughout the Indian sub-continent. Today, only 1850 individuals remain, the majority in India. Its population has drastically declined since the 2000, mainly because of hunting (for tigers and game) and degradation/loss of habitats. The latter have decreased in Asia and particularly in India by more than 50% between 1997 and 2006. The Siberian tiger (or Amur tiger) occupies a large variety of habitats: lowland and upland forests, dry and wet (mangroves included), leafy trees and conifers.
The Amur tiger
Scientific name:Panthera tigris altaica
Status (IUCN): Endangered
Population: 350-400 individuals
Current distribution: Eastern Russia, Sino-Korean border
The Amur tiger or Siberian tiger (synonyms: tigers of Manchuria, or Northern China) is the largest of the subspecies. Today, there are 350-400 individuals in the wild. In the 1940s, there were only 20-30 Amur tigers due to hunting for its fur and capturing cubs for zoos. Russia declared it a protected species in 1947, so the species was able to reconstitute its population in the vast Russian wilderness.
This tiger is unfortunately still threatened. It is hunted in retaliation for attacks on sheep and dogs (human-tiger conflicts), but also for its fur, bones and meat, which are traded at premium prices on the illegal wildlife market. Its natural habitat is disappearing in the east of Russia as large-scale forest exploitation intensifies. Lastly, its prey, such as red deer, sika deer and wild boar are being hunted so extensively that they are disappearing. Its future thus lies in its protection, as well as protecting its habitat and prey, and in the development of the necessary tools to limit human-tiger conflicts.
The Malayan tiger
Scientific name: Panthera tigris jacksoni
Status (IUCN): Endangered
Population: Officially 500 individuals (most probably rather 200 individuals)
Current distribution: Southern part of the Malay Peninsula
Formerly present in the whole of the Malayan peninsula and southern Thailand, the Malayan tiger now only exists in the south of the peninsula. In 2004, it was identified as a variety of the Indochinese tiger. In appearance quite similar to the latter, it is actually smaller. Three subpopulations exist and are primarily threatened by the loss and fragmentation of their habitats (the source of many human-tiger conflicts), agriculture, forestry, other socio-economic development related activities, traps set by farmers protecting their herds, but also by hunters targeting smaller game.
The Sumatran tiger
Scientific name:Panthera tigris sumatrae
Status (IUCN): Endangered
Population: 400 individuals
Current distribution: Sumatra
The Sumatran tiger is the smallest of the subspecies. It remains in the protected areas of Sumatra, which preserve the last wild species of the island. Its primary threat is loss of its habitat, converted by agriculture, and forestry (paper and palm oil production). This loss is the source of various human-tiger conflicts. It is also hunted for its fur, bones and meat. Between 1998 and 2002, at least 51 tigers were killed each year, 76% for the illegal wildlife-market and 15% in retaliation for human-tiger conflicts.
The Indochinese tiger
Scientific name:Panthera tigris corbetti
Status (IUCN): Endangered
Population: 250 individuals
Current distribution: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, southern China, Thailand, Vietnam
The Indochinese tiger or Corbett tiger corresponds to the ancestral type, with the branching out of the other subspecies occurring between 72,000 and 108,000 years ago. Its scientific name honors the British Colonel Jim Corbett, a famous hunter of tigers and man-eating panthers during the early twentieth century, who later became well-known as a strong advocate for the protection of wildlife and their habitats in India. IUCN estimates that 250 individuals remain in the wild, whereas certain specialists suggest more optimistic numbers of 600 to 650 animals. Its population has drastically declined due to hunting for its skin, bones and meat, and the loss of its habitats.
The South China tiger
Scientific name:Panthera tigris amoyensis
Status (IUCN): Critically endangered
Current distribution: Southern China
Historic distribution: Central and Eastern China
The South China tiger, or Amoy tiger, would be the closest variety to the common ancestor of all current tigers. From 1940 to 1970, the strong demand for tiger furs and the animal’s bad reputation led to the fall of its population from 4000 individuals to less than 100 tigers. In spite of its protected status, the tiger then continued to be hunted in order to supply the booming Asian market for traditional medicine. Furthermore, the demographic explosion, the intensification of agriculture and monocultures have fragmented and replaced most of the natural habitat of the tiger. It has not been observed in the wild since 1983. The species is thus either extinct or about to become extinct.
The Caspian tiger – Extinct
Scientific name: Panthera tigris virgata
Status (IUCN): Extinct, 1970s
Historic distribution: Bordering countries to the west and south of the Caspian Sea: Turkey, northern Iran, maybe a part of Afghanistan, and Central Asia, including a part of the Taklamakan Desert in the autonomous region of Xinjiang Uyghur in the north-west of China.
Last known specimen: in 1968 near the Aral Sea in Central Asia
The Caspian tiger once lived throughout the whole of Anatolia (Asia Minor) and part of the Middle East. It was recognized as a subspecies in 1981, although considered extinct in the wild since the early 1970s. No specimen exists in captivity. The Caspian tiger occupied scattered forests, connected by corridors along rivers and valleys. It shared its habitat with deer, gazelles, wild sheep, jackals, wolves, cheetahs and leopards. Its extinction is related to the progress of Russian colonization. This vast region is composed of forests found near water, whose streams penetrate into areas mostly desert and steppe. The Caspian tiger and its prey, thus directly depended on this habitat, today largely destroyed for the profits of intensive cultures.
The Javan tiger – Extinct
Scientific name: Panthera tigris sondaica
Status (IUCN): Extinct, 1970-80s
Historic distribution: The Indonesian island of Java
Last known specimen: In 1976, in the Meru Betiri National Park
The Javan tiger existed exclusively on the Indonesian island of the same name, where it was still abundant in the nineteenth century. The early twentieth century witnessed a growing human population and an intensification of its activities. Teak forests are planted everywhere for exploitation. They invade the island and replace the natural habitats, except in the deepest and thus least accessible regions. These areas become then the last refuges where wildlife survives. Diversity and plant production decreases since few plants are able to grow in the soil. Consequently, the island ungulate species, therefore of small sizes, such as Muntjac and wild boar become rare. The monkeys then become the main prey of tigers, forcing them to compete with another big feline, the Javan panther, which is much better adapted to this type of hunting. The Javan tiger thus became extinct in the early 1980s, due to lack of habitat and available prey.
The Bali tiger – Extinct
Scientific name:Panthera tigris balica
Status (IUCN): Extinct, twentieth century
Historic distribution: The island of Bali (Indonesia)
Last known specimen: A tiger shot in 1937
Little is known about this tiger. Smaller and rarer than the others, it disappeared from the island of Bali around 1940 due to hunting (direct and of its prey) and the disappearance of its habitat. It is traditionally considered as a subspecies of tiger, but other experts attach it as a variety of the Javan tiger, also extinct.
Threats to tigers
Wild tigers are directly threatened by the illegal wildlife trade-related hunting. Its parts are sought for traditional Asian medicine, especially in China where the demand is very keen. The illegal trade in wildlife products represents a very lucrative market, and is estimated to generate more than six million dollars per year.
Intensive hunting also directly threatens the survival of tiger prey (deer, wild boar), thus forcing the attacks on livestock and sometimes on people (human-tigers conflicts). These conflicts increase as the tiger territory is invaded by a growing human population.
Human activities such as the development of roads and villages, agriculture (monocultures in particular, such as palm oil plantations), and livestock breeding are responsible for the fragmentation and disappearance of natural habitats necessary for tigers. Without these habitats, there are no prey and therefore no tigers. Finally, the more the habitat is fragmented, the more the population of prey and tigers will be restricted and thus vulnerable to extinction.