The tiger is the largest wild cat in the world. The big cat weighs up to 720 pounds (363 kilograms), stretches 6 feet (2 meters) long.
100,000 wild tigers roamed Asia a century ago, but today their numbers have fallen to around 3,200 due to poaching.
Of this remnant population, just 1,000 are breeding females, individuals that hold the last hope for this magnificent and iconic great cat according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Tigers use their tails to communicate with one another. A tiger is relaxed if their tail is loosely hanging. Aggression is displayed by rapidly moving the tail from side to side or by holding it low with occasional intense twitches.
The tiger generally hunts alone, able to bring down prey such as deer and antelope. Unlike lions, tigers live solitary lives and mark their territories to keep others away.
The life span of tigers in the wild is thought to be about 10 years. Tigers in zoos live twice as long.
A tiger's stripes help to break up the outline of its body and make it hard to see. They also look like shadows as the tiger stalks through long grass in the moonlight. Tigers have striped skin not just striped fur.
The stripes are like fingerprints and no two tigers have the same pattern. The species name Tigris is Greek for "arrow". It is thought that its name was derived from the straight (as an arrow) and fast-flowing Tigris.
Tigers wait until dark to hunt. Due to a retinal adaptation that reflects light back to the retina, the night vision of tigers is six times better than that of humans. Tigers have more rods (responsible for visual acuity for shapes) in their eyes than cones (responsible for color vision) to assist with their night vision. The increased number of rods allows them to detect movement of prey in darkness where color vision would not be useful.
Less than 10% of tiger’s hunts end successfully. Once a tiger has spotted its prey, it sneaks as close as possible to its victim. Then the tiger sprints to the unsuspecting animal, usually pulling it off its feet with its teeth and claws. If the prey animal is large, the tiger bites its throat to kill it; smaller prey is usually killed when the tiger breaks its neck.
It may take days for a tiger to finish eating its kill. Tigers have been known to eat up to 60 pounds (27 kilograms) of meat in one night, but more often they consume about 12 pounds (5 kilograms) during a meal. The cat eats until it's full, and then covers the carcass with leaves and dirt. When it's hungry again, the tiger comes back to feed some more, until the meat is gone.
There were once nine subspecies of tigers: Bengal, Siberian, Indochinese, South Chinese, Sumatran, Malayan, Caspian, Javan and Bali. Of these, the last three are extinct, one is extinct in the wild, and the rest are endangered.
Nursing tigresses must increase their nutritional intake by an estimated 50% to keep up their milk supply. Although cubs acquire their milk teeth after a month, tiger cubs remain concealed in the den for most (if not all) of their second month, still feeding exclusively on milk. There is generally a dominant cub in each litter, which tends to be male but may be of either sex.
Tiger cubs are vulnerable in their first few months, with mortality as high as 50 percent, sometimes more. They may fall victim to attacks by dogs, leopards, snakes, or other tigers, so all their mother’s attention goes into keeping them alive and healthy.
Tiger cubs become independent around 18 months of age, but it is not until they are around 2–2.5 years old that they leave their mother. Tiger cubs, like all young animals, enjoy play-fighting. Just like the domestic housecat, tigers keep their claws sharp for hunting by pulling in their retractable claws into a protective sheath.
Tiger's forehead has a marking which resembles the Chinese character which means "king". Consequently, many cartoon depictions of tigers in China and Korea are drawn with that character on their forehead.
Various tiger subspecies are the national animals of Bangladesh, India, North Korea, South Korea and Malaysia.
Tigers that breed with lions give birth to hybrids known as tigons and ligers.
Adult males and females both communicate to one another by marking their territories. An adult tiger will usually define the boundary of its territory by spraying urine because of the strong odor associated with it can last up to 40 days but they may also use feces for marking.
All cats, including tigers, have a distinct scent associated with them due to their individualized scent glands. The individualized scent helps cubs track their mother's path and serves to identify particular individuals. Cats have scent glands between their toes, tail, anus, head, chin, lips, cheeks, and facial whiskers.
The genus Panthera includes the following four big cat species, tiger (Panthera tigris), lion (Panthera leo), leopard (Panthera pardus) and jaguar (Panthera onca) that are capable of roaring. These big cats possess thickened vocal folds below their vocal cords and a roar is produced by vibrations of these folds.
The first people to embrace the tiger as an important symbol in their culture were the Indus Valley civilization of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro (area known today as Pakistan) around 5,000 years ago. Tiger symbols were engraved on seals and worn as amulets as a representation of property ownership.
Despite losing around 93% of their historical habitat and dwindling numbers, a recent study shows that tigers in the India sub-continent retain much of their genetic viability. These genes are critically important to the recovery and survival of tigers and this is giving the Indian government even more incentive to preserve this magnificent animal. Indira Gandhi held tiger conservation in high regard and upon becoming prime minister is 1968 she took political leadership in their protection. In 1968 the export of tiger skins was prohibited and a ban on tiger shooting was established in 1970.
Over a thousand years ago the Roman Empire was at its peak. Tigers with their great strength were used for entertainment purposes in Colosseum games.
White tigers carry a gene that is only present in around 1 in every 10000 tigers. White tigers are prone to having crossed eyes (a condition known as strabismus). Since white tigers have pigmented stripes and blue eyes, they are not albinos.
Golden tabby tigers have light gold fur, pale legs and faint orange stripes due to a recessive gene that causes a color variation, sometimes known as "strawberry." Their fur tends to be much thicker than normal.
Most tigers will only attack a human if they cannot physically satisfy their needs otherwise. Thus, most man-eating tigers are old, infirm or have missing teeth. Although humans are not regular prey for them, the tiger has killed more people than any other cat. Between 1800 and 1900, it is estimated that tigers had killed over 10,000 people in India alone. However, man-eaters are mostly old and injured tigers, and almost all tigers that are identified as man-eaters are eventually captured, shot or poisoned.
The modern tiger was never found in Africa. It is strictly an Asian species, having evolved some two million years ago, probably in what is now northern China.
Tigers once roamed through vast tracts of forest stretching across Asia. Now they only exist in isolated, usually small populations in widely scattered forests. Tigers are currently found in thirteen Asian range states: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.
12,000 tigers are being kept as private pets in the USA, significantly more than the world's entire wild population. 4,000 are believed to be in captivity in Texas alone according to an Association of Zoos and Aquariums estimate. Pet tigers must be supplied with 10 to 20 pounds of raw meat each day.
Traffic International, a British non-profit wildlife trade monitoring agency, says that parts of at least 1,069 tigers have been seized in the last decade in countries were tigers roam wild, making for an average of more than 100 killed each year. Considering the number of tigers poached is probably far higher than the number officially reported, and with only an estimated 3,200 tigers remaining in the wild, the outlook for the future of the species is grim.
A dead adult tiger male can sell for U.S. $10,000 or more on the black market.