The Tiger Family


sumatran-tiger-hero_92514619Wild tiger numbers are at an all-time low. We have lost 97% of wild tigers in just over a century. Tigers may be one of the most revered animals, but they are also vulnerable to extinction. As few as 3,200 exist in the wild today.

The largest of all the Asian big cats, tigers rely primarily on sight and sound rather than smell. They typically hunt alone and stalk prey. A tiger can consume up to 88 pounds of meat at one time. On average, tigers give birth to 2-3 cubs every 2-2.5 years. If all the cubs in one litter die, a second litter may be produced within 5 months.

Tigers generally gain independence at two years of age and attain sexual maturity at 3-4 years for females and at 4-5 years for males. Juvenile mortality is high however—about half of all cubs do not survive more than two years. Tigers have been known to reach the age of 26 years in the wild.

Males of the largest subspecies, the Amur (Siberian) tiger, may weigh up to 660 pounds. For males of the smallest subspecies—the Sumatran tiger—upper range is at around 310 pounds. Within each subspecies, males are heavier than females. Tigers are mostly solitary, apart from associations between mother and offspring. Individual tigers have a large territory and the size is determined mostly by the availability of prey. Although individuals do not patrol their territories, they visit over a period of days or weeks and mark their territory with urine and feces.

Across their range, tigers face unrelenting pressure from poaching, retaliatory killings and habitat loss. They are forced to compete for space with dense and often growing human populations.

Sumatran Tiger

Sumatran-Tiger-Hero

  • Population
    less than 400
  • b Scientific Name
    Panthera tigris sumatrae
  • d Weight
    165 – 308 pounds
  • e Habitats
    Tropical Broadleaf Evergreen, Forest, Peat Swamps, and Freshwater Swamp Forests

Today, the last of Indonesia’s tigers—now less than 400—are holding on for survival in the remaining patches of forests on the island of Sumatra. Accelerating deforestation and rampant poaching mean this noble creature could end up like its extinct Javan and Balinese relatives.

Sumatran tigers are the smallest surviving tiger subspecies and are distinguished by heavy black stripes on their orange coats. They are protected by law in Indonesia, with tough provisions for jail time and steep fines. But despite increased efforts in tiger conservation—including law enforcement and antipoaching capacity—a substantial market remains in Sumatra and the rest of Asia for tiger parts and products. Sumatran tigers are losing their habitat and prey fast, and poaching shows no sign of decline.

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Amur Tiger
Siberian tigers
  • Population
    around 400
  • b Scientific Name
    Panthera tigris altaica
  • d Weight
    396 – 660 pounds
  • C Length
    up to 10 feet
  • e Habitats
    Temperate forest

Amur tigers were once found throughout the Russian Far East, northern China, and the Korean peninsula. By the 1940s, hunting had driven the Amur tiger to the brink of extinction—with no more than 40 individuals remaining in the wild. The subspecies was saved when Russia became the first country in the world to grant the tiger full protection.

By the 1980s, the Amur tiger population had increased to around 500. Although poaching increased after the collapse of the Soviet Union, continued conservation and antipoaching efforts by many partners—including WWF—have helped keep the population stable at around 450 individuals. The Amur tiger’s habitat is now restricted to the Sikhote-Alin range in the Primorski and Khabarovski provinces of the Russian Far East, and to small pockets in the border areas of China and possibly North Korea. The high latitude means long winters where the sun does not rise far above the horizon.

Amur tigers have the largest home range of any tiger subspecies because low prey densities means they have to search over large areas to find food. They represent the largest unfragmented tiger population in the world.

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Bengal Tiger
Bengal tiger portrait, Bandhavgarh NP, Madhya Pradesh, India
  • Population
    fewer than 2,500
  • b Scientific Name
    Panthera tigris tigris
  • d Weight
    around 550 pounds
  • C Length
    nearly 10 feet
  • e Habitats
    Dry and wet deciduous forests, grassland and temperate forests, mangrove forests

The Bengal tiger is found primarily in India with smaller populations in Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China and Myanmar. It is the most numerous of all tiger subspecies with fewer than 2,500 left in the wild. The creation of India’s tiger reserves in the 1970s helped to stabilize numbers, but poaching to meet a growing demand from Asia in recent years has once again put the Bengal tiger at risk. The mangroves of the Sundarbans—shared between Bangladesh and India—are the only mangrove forests where tigers are found. The Sundarbans are increasingly threatened by sea level rise as a result of climate change.

Indochinese Tiger
Indochinese tiger, Thailand
  • Population
    around 350 (2010 estimate)
  • b Scientific Name
    Panthera tigris corbetti
  • d Weight
    396-550 pounds
  • C Length
    average 9 feet from nose to tail
  • e Habitats 
  • Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, dry forest

The region contains the largest combined area of tiger habitat in the world—equal to roughly the size of France. However, rapid development, such as road construction, is fragmenting habitats. Due to decades of rampant poaching many of the landscapes of this region have no tigers left in them.

There is hope in other remaining Indochinese tiger habitats, which have a relatively low human presence and offer a unique opportunity for tiger conservation. The best hope of the survival of this subspecies is in the Dawna Tennaserim landscape on the Thailand-Myanmar border where perhaps 250 tigers remain. WWF considers the forests of the Lower Mekong a restoration landscape with the possibility of reintroducing tigers as the habitat and prey base are there. Southern Laos and Central Vietnam also have potential for recovery of wild tiger populations.

Access to the areas where Indochinese tigers live is often restricted, and biologists have only recently been granted limited permits for field surveys. As a result, there is still much to learn about the status of these tigers in the wild.

South China Tiger
South China tiger, Beijing zoo, China
  • Population
    believed to be extinct in the wild
  • b Scientific Name
    Panthera tigris amoyensis
  • e Habitats
    Southeast China-Hainan Moist Forests

The South China tiger population was estimated to number 4,000 individuals in the early 1950s. In the next few decades, thousands were killed as the subspecies was hunted as a pest. The Chinese government banned hunting in 1979. By 1996 the population was estimated to be just 30-80 individuals.

Today the South China tiger is considered by scientists to be “functionally extinct,” as it has not been sighted in the wild for more than 25 years.

Malayan Tiger
shutterstock_6107227
  • Population
    around 500
  • b Scientific Name
    Panthera tigris jacksoni
  • d Weight
    220 – 264 pounds
  • e Habitats
    Tropical moist broadleaf forests

Malayan tigers number around 500 and were classified as the Indochinese tiger until DNA testing in 2004 showed it to be a separate subspecies. Its Latin name—Panthera tigris jacksoni— honors Peter Jackson, the famous tiger conservationist. Malayan tigers are found only on the Malay Peninsula and in the southern tip of Thailand.

Credits: WWF

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