Tiger is the largest member of the cat family. Tigers belong
to the genus Panthera in the cat family, Felidae. All tigers
are of the same species, P. tigris. People admire the tiger
for its strength and beauty, but they also fear it because
it has been known to kill and occasionally eat people. Yet
wild tigers prefer to avoid human beings. Tigers that kill
and eat people are most often sick or wounded animals that
can no longer hunt their natural prey. A hungry tiger may
also attack people if prey is extremely scarce.
Wild tigers are found in Sumatera, while tiger in Java
and Bali is extinct. Tigers can live in almost any climate.
They need only shade, water, and food. Tigers are found in
the rain forests of Thailand; the hot, dry thorn woods of
India; and the cold, snowy, spruce forests of Siberia.
Tigers also live in mangrove swamps, marshes, and tall
grasslands. In general, tigers like to be in shade. They
seldom go into the open plains as lions do.
Most adult male tigers weigh about 420 pounds (190
kilograms) and are 9 feet (2.7 meters) long, including a
3-foot (0.9-meter) tail. Most adult tigresses (females)
weigh about 300 pounds (140 kilograms) and are 8 feet (2.4
meters) long. The tiger's coat ranges from brownish-yellow
to orange-red and is marked by black stripes. Each tiger has
a unique stripe pattern, which is as distinctive as a human
fingerprint. The fur on the throat, belly, and insides of
the legs is whitish. Many tigers, especially the males, have
a ruff of hair around the sides of the face. The tigers that
live in Siberia, where winters are bitterly cold, have
shaggy winter coats.
Some tigers have chalk-white fur with chocolate-brown or
black stripes. These tigers, called white tigers, are also
distinctive because they have blue eyes. All other tigers
have yellow eyes. White tigers are very rare in the wild.
More than 100 white tigers live in the world's zoos. They
are all descendants of a white cub caught in India in 1951.
A normal-colored tigress can give birth to a litter in which
some of the cubs are white.
Tigers and lions look similar except for the color and
length of their hair. The two species have even mated in
zoos and produced offspring called ligers or tigons.
Tigers hunt large mammals, such as deer, antelope, wild
cattle, and wild pigs. They may even attack young
rhinoceroses and elephants. They also catch such small
animals as peafowl, monkeys, and frogs. At times, tigers
attack porcupines, but the porcupine's quills may stick in
the tiger's face and body, causing painful wounds. In many
parts of Asia, tigers prey on domestic cattle and water
buffalo, especially where hunters have greatly reduced the
amount of wildlife.
The tiger usually hunts at night, wandering along animal
trails and dry stream beds. A tiger depends chiefly on its
sharp vision and keen hearing, but it may also use its sense
of smell. After stalking closely or waiting in cover, the
tiger rushes at its prey in several bounds. Using its sharp
claws, the tiger grasps the victim by the rump or upper body
and pulls it down. Its large canine teeth are well suited
for holding prey and for killing it.
Tigers are extremely swift for short distances. However,
if a tiger fails to catch its prey quickly, it usually will
give up because it soon tires. As long as a week may go by
without a successful hunt. After a kill, the tiger drags the
carcass (dead body) to thick cover. The tiger's neck,
shoulders, and forelegs are very powerful. A tiger may drag
the body of a 500-pound (230-kilogram) water buffalo for 1/4
mile (0.4 kilometer). The tiger stays near the carcass until
it has eaten everything except the large bones and stomach.
A tiger may eat at least 50 pounds (23 kilograms) of meat in
a night. A tiger often takes a long drink of water and a nap
after a meal.
Adult tigers usually live alone but are not unfriendly
with one another. Two tigers may meet on their nightly
rounds, rub heads in greeting, and then part. Several may
share in eating a killed prey.
Adult males often claim their own territory and try to
keep other males out. In areas with abundant prey, such
territories may average about 20 square miles (52 square
kilometers). The male tiger marks trees in his territory
with his scent and urine. The scent tells other tigers that
the territory is occupied. A male's territory overlaps the
territories of two or more females. Female territories are
smaller than a male's. Each tiger wanders alone, but they
communicate with each other. In addition to scent, they
communicate with sounds, including a roar that can be heard
for up to 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) or more. Some tigers do
not have territories and travel widely.
A tigress usually bears her first cubs when she is 3 1/2
to 4 years old. She carries the young within her body for
about 3 1/2 months. She then gives birth to from one to six
cubs, though usually two or three. Newborn cubs are helpless
and weigh about 2 to 3 pounds (0.9 to 1.4 kilograms). Tiger
cubs, like kittens, are playful. They are wholly dependent
on their mother for food until they are about a year old.
Even then, they cannot kill a large animal. Cubs become
fully independent at about 2 years old. Female cubs then
often settle down in a territory near their mother. Males
tend to roam far from their birthplace. Tigers live up to 20
years in the wild. Tigers are good swimmers. They may swim
across rivers or between islands. On hot days, they may cool
off in water. Tigers can climb trees but usually do not.
People have greatly reduced the number of tigers by
killing them and by clearing the forests in which they
lived. Scientists generally recognize eight varieties of
tigers. Of these, three varieties are now extinct and three
others-the South China tiger, the Sumatran tiger, and the
Amur, or Siberian, tiger-are critically endangered. Several
countries, especially India and Nepal, protect tigers in
nature reserves. The survival of wild tigers depends on such
Tigers are easy to breed and raise in zoos. Cubs are
popular with zoo visitors. Adult tigers are often trained to
perform in circuses. They jump through hoops and are even
ridden. Today, enough tigers are born in captivity that no
more need to be captured for zoos.
The Javan tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica) is an extinct
tiger subspecies. It inhabited the Indonesian island of Java
until the 1980s and was one of the three subspecies limited
Javan tigers were very small compared to other
subspecies of the Asian mainland, but larger in size than
Bali tigers. Males weighed between 100 and 140 kg (220 and
310 lb) on average with a body length of 200 to 245 cm (6.6
to 8.04 ft). Females were smaller than males and weighed
between 75 and 115 kg (170 and 250 lb) on average. Their
nose was long and narrow, occipital plane remarkably narrow
and carnassials relatively long. They usually had long and
thin stripes, which were slightly more numerous than of the
The smaller body size of the Javan Tiger is attributed to
Bergmannís rule and the size of the available prey species
in Java, which are smaller than the cervid and bovid species
distributed on the Asian mainland. However, the diameter of
their tracks are larger than of Bengal Tiger in Bangladesh,
India and Nepal.
At the end of the 18th century tigers
inhabited most of Java. Around 1850, the people living in
the rural areas still considered them a plague. Until 1940,
tigers had retreated to remote mountainous and forested
areas. Around 1970, the only known tigers lived in the
region of Mount Betiri, the highest mountain (1,192 metres
(3,911 ft)) in Java's southeast, which hadnít been settled
due to the rugged and slopy terrain. In 1972, the 500 km2
area was gazetted as wildlife reserve. The last tigers were
sighted there in 1976.
They preyed on rusa deer, banteng and wild boar, less
often on water fowl and reptiles. Nothing is known about
their gestation period, life span in the wild and in
captivity. Up to World War II Javan tigers were kept in some
Indonesian zoos, but these were closed down during the war.
After the war, Javan Tiger were so rare already that it was
easier to obtain Sumatran tigers.
At the beginning of the 20th century 28 million people
lived on the island of Java. The annual production of rice
was insufficient to adequately supply the growing human
population, so that within 15 years 150% more land was
cleared for cultivating rice. In 1938 natural forest covered
23% of the island. 1975 only 8% forest stand remained; the
human population had increased to 85 million people. In
this human-dominated landscape the extirpation of the Javan
Tiger was a process intensified by the conjunction of
several circumstances and events:
Tigers and their prey were poisoned in many places during
the period when their habitat was rapidly being reduced;
Natural forests were increasingly fragmented after World War
II for plantations of teak, coffee and rubber, which was
unsuitable habitat for wildlife; Rusa deer, the tiger's most
important prey species, was lost to disease in several
reserves and forests during the 1960s; During the period of
civil unrest after 1965 armed groups retreated to reserves,
where they killed the remaining tigers.