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tiger (Panthera tigris)

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William Blake’s “forests of the night,” the stalking grounds of the six subspecies of tiger, are burning bright. Slash-and-burn agriculture, along with logging, and human encroachment, have hugely diminished the habitat available to these felines, which require extensive ranges capable of supporting the large herbivores that constitute the bulk of their diets. Poaching—for trophies and body parts used in Asian “medicine” —is thought to pose the greatest threat to tigers. Probably fewer than 4,000 are left in the wild. In 2014, China explicitly outlawed the consumption of endangered species, including tigers, whose bones, penises, and other organs are superstitiously believed to have magical curative powers.


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The tiger has long been hunted for its distinctive patterned fur. Of the nine tiger subspecies, three are already extinct, many are endangered but it is the South China Tiger and the Sumatran Tiger that currently face the biggest threat to their survival. Tragically, the South China Tiger is thought to be extinct in the wild as it hasn’t been spotted since the 1970s. The Sumatran Tiger is the only surviving tiger subspecies indigenous to Indonesia and as of 2008 it has been classified by the IUCN as Critically Endangered. Less than 500 of these tigers exist today in comparison with a population estimation of up to 1,000 in 1978

Amazing Facts About the Tiger
As the largest member of the cat family, tigers are strong, powerful and one of nature’s most feared predators. Their beautiful orange and black striped coats provide camouflage when hunting prey at night when they can reach speeds of 65 km/hr (~40 mph).

How many sub-species of tiger are there?
There are six living and three extinct tiger sub-species. Extant (living) species include the:

Sumatran tiger – Panthera tigris sumatrae
Amur tiger – Panthera tigris altaica
Bengal tiger – Panthera tigris tigris
Indochinese tiger – Panthera tigris corbetti
South China tiger – Panthera tigris amoyensis
Malayan tiger – Panthera tigris jacksoni
And extinct species include the:

Bali tiger – Panthera tigris balica
Caspian tiger – Panthera tigris virgata
Javan tiger – Panthera tigris sondaica
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Where do tigers live?
Tigers are native to Asia, but their range today is much smaller than it used to be, and includes South-east Asia, India, western China, and some parts of Russia, with breeding populations present in Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Russia and Nepal.

In terms of habitat, tigers inhabit a range of environments, but generally prefer areas with dense cover, like forests, with access to water and plenty of prey. Dens are positioned in secluded areas such as in caves, among dense vegetation or in hollow trees.

What do tigers eat?
Tigers are powerful apex predators that are at the top of the food chain and capable of killing animals over twice their size. They are nocturnal hunters and will travel many miles to prey on a variety of animals including deer, buffalo and wild boar; native ungulates are the favourite. Not wanting to waste food, remains of large kills may be dragged to a thicket and loosely buried with leaves, ready to be returned to later.

Are tigers solitary?
Tigers are solitary, living alone in scent-marked territories that vary in size depending on the availability of prey. If there is plenty of prey available, the area can support more tigers, so territories will be smaller and tiger numbers higher.

Do tigers mate for life?
Female tigers reach sexual maturity at around 3–4 years of age, whilst males mature later at around 4–5. There is no particular breeding season, with female tigers entering oestrus, and therefore able to conceive, every 3–9 weeks. However, tigers usually breed in the cooler months from November to April. Females attract males and let them know they are ready to reproduce by vocalising and marking their territory with distinct smelling urine.

Litters of two to six cubs are born around 16 weeks after copulation. Male tigers have nothing to do with the female or the young. Cubs remain with their mothers for two to three years, after which they disperse to find their own territory. Hunting lessons begin when cubs are around six months old, with them becoming competent hunters at around 11 months and fully independent at around 18 months.

Why do tigers have stripes?
Large predators need to be able to sneak up on their prey, and the tigers distinctive coat acts as camouflage, hiding them as they stalk prey in dense vegetation. No two tigers have the same stripes, enabling individuals to be identified by their unique pattern of stripes.

Can tigers swim?
Unlike other cats, tigers are good swimmers and often cool off in lakes and streams during the heat of the day.

Why are tigers endangered?
Three sub-species of tiger are already extinct and one species, the South China tiger, is thought only to survive in captivity. Tigers are endangered, and some the biggest threats to their survival include illegal poaching, loss of habitat due to agriculture and urbanisation, and reduction in prey availability. Increased interactions between tigers and humans and tiger attacks also results in tigers being killed.

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