The Panthera tigris, as the magnificent tiger is known in formal scientific terms, is one of the largest of the wild cats to walk the surface of the earth. Its golden-red coat is characterised by bold black (or very dark brown) stripes, under which a strong, lithesome body is built for the hunt. The tiger’s eyes have haunted and mesmerised mankind for millennia, as this elegant creature has stalked alongside the human settlements that have entered into its natural territory.The tiger is a mammal (that is, from the Mammalia class) and is placed within the Carnivora order. It comes from the Felidae family and the Panthera genus.
This scientific family refers to the entire biological group of the wild cats, of which every member is a strict carnivore. The members of this scientific family range from the common domestic cat to lions, panthers, jaguars, cougars, cheetahs, tigers and leopards, amongst many others.
The elegance, power and mysterious beauty of the tiger have intrigued human beings for countless generations. Their sheer aesthetic splendour alone sets these majestic hunters apart. However, their physiology is not their only impressive feature. They are also renowned for their hunting abilities, their featuring in folklore and mythology, and their perceived value in the more traditional world of witchcraft’s medicinal system.
Tigers are originally from Siberia (today known as Manchurian or Siberian Tigers), which comprises almost the entire northern area of Asia. This country is characterised by extensive mountain ranges, deep valleys and dense forests; the ideal habitat in which the tiger can escape the threat of man. Because of the relatively low temperatures, even in the summer months, the tigers in Siberia enjoy thicker, warmer coats than those in more temperate areas. In fact, the physical appearance of the tiger (such as the density of its coat and its precise physical size) has much to do with the area in which it lives, as it needs to adapt to the different climatic conditions of its habitat.
There are three main tiger species that are still roaming the earth; namely 1) the Sumatran Tiger, 2) the Manchurian or Siberian Tiger, and 3) the Bengal or Indian Tiger. Note that the white tiger and the black tiger are a result of a rare colour morph, and are not defined species in their own rights. However, white tigers have only been known to occur within the Bengal species. Each species is differentiated based on its size, colour and markings.
As its name implies, this critically endangered tiger hails from the island of Sumatra, which is located in Indonesia. It is the smallest of the main species of tigers. Females measure approximately 7 feet (or 2.1 meters) in length and weigh about 200 pounds or just over 90 kilograms. Males are typically larges than their female counterparts, averaging a length of 8 feet or 2.4 metres and a weight of 265 pounds (equivalent to 120 kilograms).
In stark contrast to the Sumatran species, this is the largest of the tigers. It is also sometimes known as the Amur Tiger and inhabits the area in the far east of Russia. There are only a few hundred of these animals left in the wild, and intense conservation efforts are underway to increase this number. The Manchurian Tiger stands at over a metre at shoulder height and is nearly 4 metres long (including its 1 metre long tail). This tiger weighs approximately 350 kilograms (or well over 700 pounds). Its canine teeth are an impressive 10 centimetres in length. Its natural habitat in Siberia is a cold one. Therefore, this tiger has, over the generations, grown a thicker, longer, shaggier coat than its counterparts that live in warmer climates. This adaptation keeps it protected from the snowy winters and icy winds.
This tiger subspecies originates in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan. Although its numbers are the highest of all the tiger species worldwide, this is still an endangered species, with fewer than 2 500 individuals remaining in existence. The vast majority of these tigers are found in India, in which it is the national animal. There are various mutations of this species, including the white tiger and the black tiger (which has white or yellow stripes on a black coat). Male Bengals weigh an average of 221 kilograms (or just under 490 pounds), while females average 140 kilograms, which is equivalent to about 308 pounds. The Bengal Tiger features in Indian folklore.
•The South China Tiger – this is one of the 10 most endangered species in the world, and is characterised by its relatively small stature. The South China Tiger is likely already extinct in the wild, preserved only in captivity as far as human knowledge extends. Breeding efforts are underway in an effort to increase its numbers and restore this magnificent animal into the wild.
•The Indochinese Tiger – this is a relatively dark, small tiger found in Cambodia, China, Laos, Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam. There are only a few hundred of these animals left in the wild, while the total world population is under 2 000. Many of them are killed for Chinese medicine and the magical curative properties that they are believed to have.
•The Malayan Tiger – this tiger has the third-largest population in the world, despite the fact that there are only about 700 of these tigers in existence today. The Malayan Tiger is small, with females weighing only about 100 kilograms or 220 pounds and males a measly 120 kilograms or 264 pounds.
There are a number of subspecies that have already become extinct, largely at the hands of man. These are:
•The Bali Tiger
•The Javan Tiger
•The Caspian Tiger
This extinction is as a result of hunting, a loss of habitat and a decrease in the natural resources available to wild animals. Tigers are predators and, when their natural food is hunted or relocated due to the ever-increasing interference by human beings, they can no longer survive.