8 subspecies of tiger have traditionally been recognised on the basis of:
- geographic isolation
- morphological characteristics
- Siberian or Amur tiger, P. t. altaica
- South China tiger, P. t. amoyensis
- Bali tiger, P. t. balica
- Northern Indochinese tiger, P. t. corbetti
- Javan tiger, P. t. sondaica
- Sumatran tiger, P. t. sumatrae
- Bengal tiger, P. t. tigris
- Caspian tiger, P. t. virgata
The South China tiger is one of the smallest tiger subspecies.
- Length: 2.3-2.6m (from head to tail)
- Weight: 130-150kg
- Length: smaller than males, at 2.2-2.4m
- Weight: 100-115kg
This has been used to distinguish different tiger subspecies, although there are strong similarities between P. t. tigris and P t. corbetti, and some overlap of P. t. corbetti and P. t. sumatrae.P. t. amoyensis has distinctive primitive skull morphology including:
- a shortened cranial region
- close-set, more forward facing eye sockets
Colouring and markings
The South China tiger has a similar coat color to other Asian tigers. Its short, broad stripes are spaced far apart compared to those of Bengal and Siberian tigers.
Description of Panthera tigris
Tigers can live up to 26 years in captivity, but in the wild 8-10 years is more usual.
Reproduction patterns of tigers
Tigers appear to reach sexual maturity at about 3-6 years of age and can breed at any time of the year. Gestation: around 103 days.Litter size: up to 7 cubs, 2 or 3 is usual.Birth to maturity:Cubs are born blind and do not open their eyes until about 6-14 days after birth. For the first 8 weeks the cubs consume only their mother's milk. When cubs are 2 months old they start following their mother, begin eating solids and leave the den for the first time. They continue to be suckled until they are 3-6 months old and they are totally dependent on their mother until they learn to kill at about 6 months old. By the time they are 18 months to 3 years old they can hunt for themselves, and become fully independent.
South China tigers are solitary, except during mating season.Male territory may sometimes overlap.
South China tigers, like all other tiger subspecies, are pure carnivores.Their most common prey is:
- wild boar
- wild pigs
- other hooved mammals (ungulates) native to this region
In 1994, the first comprehensive assessment to delineate Tiger range was carried out (Dinerstein et al. 1997). Priority areas for Tiger conservation were estimated to total 1.64 million kmÂ² in 159 Tiger Conservation Units (TCUs), roughly equivalent to discrete meta-populations, not including Russia (later estimated at 270,0000 kmÂ²: Sanderson et al. 2006) and China. While this was generally considered representative of current distribution, Tiger presence was confirmed in just 47% the TCUs, and 89% were scored as undergoing medium to high levels of poaching of Tigers and their prey.
This exercise was revised and updated ten years later, and in delineating Tiger Conservation Landscapes (TCLs), greater emphasis was placed on actual records of Tiger presence and breeding (Sanderson et al. 2006). TCLs were defined as areas where there is sufficient habitat to conserve at least five Tigers, and Tigers have been confirmed to occur in the past decade. Tiger range was estimated at 1.1 million kmÂ² in 76 TCLs (again, roughly equivalent to discrete meta-populations). This represented a 41% decline from the range described a decade earlier (in South and Southeast Asia, a drop from 1.55 million kmÂ² to 914,000 kmÂ²: Sanderson et al. 2006: 63), attributed primarily to poaching pressure (Dinerstein et al. 2007). Habitat loss due to deforestation was also to blame, notable particularly in Sumatra and Myanmar (Wikramanayake et al. 2010). In India, landscapes with Tigers found to be much smaller and more fragmented than in the original assessment (Sanderson et al. 2006: 63 and Figure 4.12).
Records of Tigers were collected over a ten-year period (1995â2004), a period which may have been too liberal for places like Cambodia which underwent a sharp rise in poaching pressure in the 1990s (Sanderson et al. 2006: Appendix 6). While 53% of the TCU survey respondents reported evidence of Tiger breeding in the time period 1995â2004, out of over 2,500 point records collected in 2005, just 8% had confirmed evidence of breeding Tigers (Sanderson et al. 2006: 11-17). Large areas of habitat were defined as Tiger landscapes based on suitability, but given data paucity on Tiger presence there were often few records of breeding and actual Tiger occupancy to substantiate these (Sanderson et al. 2006: Figures 2.3 and 4.8).
A review of land management within Tiger Conservation Landscapes described the TCLs as âpotential habitat for Tigersâ and found only 21% of their area to be legally protected. Management effectiveness was generally poor in the protected areas, with regulatory, budgetary and enforcement constraints, and hunting cited as the main threat. Significant portions of the TCLs are designated concessions for resource extraction (timber, oil and gas, minerals, etc.) (Forrest et al. 2011).
Tiger range was revisited again in 2009, by which time the extent of the Tigerâs range collapse had become evident. âVast areas of Southeast Asia [were] recently found to be void of Tigers and depleted of prey by huntersâ (Walston et al. 2010a: 5). The exercise used a different methodology to prioritize areas for Tiger conservation. Source Sites were defined as areas with confirmed current presence of Tigers and evidence of breeding, population estimates of >25 breeding females, legal protection, and embedded in a larger habitat landscape with the potential to hold >50 breeding females. An extensive review of scientific literature as well as correspondence with Tiger scientists and protected area managers resulted in the identification of just 42 source sites totalling approximately 90,000 kmÂ². Many Southeast Asian countries, previously considered to have large areas with Tigers, are now considered, on the basis of extensive survey effort over the past decade or more, to have essentially no healthy breeding populations: Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Bhutan have no confirmed source sites (although some sites with potential), and Laos just one (Walston et al. 2010a,b).
On the range map accompanying this Red List assessment, the Source Sites are delineated as Extant range, and the Tiger Conservation Landscapes as Probably Extant, as they are based primarily on ârealistic inferences (e.g., based on distribution of suitable habitat at appropriate altitudes and proximity to areas where the taxon is known or thought very likely to remain extant,â as defined by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species).
The range of tigers once extended across Asia from eastern Turkey and the Caspian Sea south of the Tibetan plateau eastward to Manchuria and the Sea of Okhotsk. Tigers were also found in northern Iran, Afghanistan, the Indus valley of Pakistan, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and the islands of Java and Bali. Tigers are now extinct or nearly extinct in most of these areas. Populations remain relatively stable in northeastern China, Korea, Russia, and parts of India and the Himalayan region.
There are eight recognized subspecies of Panthera tigris. Siberian tigers, P. t. altaica, are currently found only in a small part of Russia, including the Amurussuri region of Primorye and Khabarovsk. Bengal tigers, P. t. tigris, are found in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and China. Indochinese tigers, P. t. corbetti, are found in Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. South China tigers, P. t. amoyensis, are found in three isolated areas in southcentral China. Sumatran tigers, P. t. sumatrae, are found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Bali tigers (P. t. balica), Javan tigers (P. t. sondaica), and Caspian tigers (P. t. virgata) are thought to be extinct. Those subspecies occurred on the islands of Bali (P. t. balica), Java (P. t. sondaica), and in Turkey, the Transcaucasus region, Iran, and central Asia (P. t. virgata).
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native )
- Sunquist, M., F. Sunquist. 2002. Wild Cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Thapar, V. 2005. Wild Tigers of Ranthambhore. New Delhi, NY: Oxford University Press.
- Mazak, V. 1981. Mammalian Species. Panthera tigris, 152: 1-8.
At the beginning of the 20th century, when the South China tiger was abundant, it was distributed in ranges throughout central, eastern and southern China and Hong Kong.However, there has been no official sighting of this subspecies in the wild for over 25 years and the last confirmed sighting in Hong Kong was in 1947.It appears that what few individuals may remain in the wild have a reduced range. A 1990 survey by Chinese scientists failed to find any tigers, although anecdotal evidence from former hunters suggested that there could be small and scattered populations in the remote mountains of the Guangdong, Hunan, and Fujian provinces of southern China.
Like other tiger subspecies, South China tigers live where there is:
- some form of dense vegetative cover (this subspecies prefers moist forests)
- access to water and prey
Temperate and tropical Asia
Tigers have a reddish-orange coat with vertical black stripes along the flanks and shoulders that vary in size, length, and spacing. Some subspecies have paler fur and some are almost fully white with either black or dark brown stripes along the flanks and shoulders. The underside of the limbs and belly, chest, throat, and muzzle are white or light. White is found above the eyes and extends to the cheeks. A white spot is present on the back of each ear. The dark lines about the eyes tend to be symmetrical, but the marks on each side of the face are often asymmetrical. The tail is reddish-orange and ringed with several dark bands.
Body size and morphology varies considerably among subspecies of tigers. Siberian tigers, also know as Amur tigers (P. t. altaica), are the largest. Male Siberian tigers can grow to 3.7 meters and weigh over 423 kg; females are up to 2.4 meters in length and 168 kg. Male Indochinese tigers (P. t. corbetti), though smaller than Siberian tigers in body size at 2.85 meters in length and 195 kg, have the longest skull of all tiger subspecies, measuring 319 to 365 mm. Sumatran tigers (P. t. sumatrae) are the smallest living subspecies. Male Sumatran tigers measure 2.34 meters and weigh 136 kg; females measure 1.98 meters and weigh 91 kg.
Tigers are powerful animals, one is known to have dragged a gaur bull weighing 700 kg. Tigers have short, thick necks, broad shoulders, and massive forelimbs, ideal for grappling with prey while holding on with long retractible claws and broad forepaws. A tiger’s tongue is covered with hard papillae, to scrape flesh off the bones of prey.
All tigers have a dental formula of 3/3, 1/1, 3/2, 1/1. Bengal tigers (P. t. tigris) have the longest canines of any living large cat; from 7.5 to 10 cm in length. A tiger's skull is robust, short, and broad with wide zygomatic arches. The nasal bones are high, projecting little further than the maxillary, where the canines fit. Tigers have a well-developed sagittal crest and coronoid processes, providing muscle attachment for their strong bite.
Range mass: 91 to 423 kg.
Range length: 1.98 to 3.7 m.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Average basal metabolic rate: 133.859 W.
Habitat and Ecology
Availability of a sufficient prey base of large ungulates is the Tiger's major habitat requirement: "wild pigs and deer of various species are the two prey types that make up the bulk of the Tiger's diet, and in general Tigers require a good population of these species in order to survive and reproduce" (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002). Based on studies, Karanth et al. (2004) estimate that Tigers need to kill 50 large prey animals per year. Tigers are opportunistic predators, however, and their diet includes birds, fish, rodents, insects, amphibians, reptiles in addition to other mammals such as primates and porcupines. Tigers can also take ungulate prey much larger than themselves, including large bovids (water buffalo, gaur, banteng), elephants and rhinos (Nowell and Jackson 1996).
Tigers are generally solitary, with adults maintaining exclusive territories, or home ranges. Adult female home ranges seldom overlap, whereas male ranges typically overlap from 1â3 females, a typical felid pattern of social organization. Tiger home ranges are small where prey is abundant - e.g., female home ranges in Chitwan averaged 20 kmÂ², while in the Russian Far East they are much larger at 450 kmÂ² (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002). Similarly, reported Tiger densities range from 11.65 adult Tigers per 100 kmÂ² where prey is abundant (India's Nagarhole National Park) to as low as 0.13â0.45 per 100 kmÂ² where prey is more thinly distributed, as in Russia's Sikhote Alin Mountains (Nowell and Jackson 1996).
Tigers live in a wide variety of habitats, suggested by their distribution across a wide range of ecological conditions. They are known to occur in tropical lowland evergreen forest, monsoonal forest, dry thorn forest, scrub oak and birch woodlands, tall grass jungles, and mangrove swamps. Tigers are able to cope with a broad range of climatic variation, from warm moist areas, to areas of extreme snowfall where temperatures may be as low as –40 degrees Celsius. Tigers have been found at elevations of 3,960 meters. In general, tigers require only some vegetative cover, a source of water, and sufficient prey.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: tundra ; taiga ; savanna or grassland ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest ; mountains
- Ullasa, K. 2001. The Way of the Tiger. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press.
Tigers prefer to hunt at night, when their ungulate prey are most active. In a study done in India by Schaller (1967), tigers were most active before 0800 and after 1600 hours. Tigers are thought to locate their prey using hearing and sight more than olfaction (Schaller, 1967). They use a stealthy approach, taking advantage of every rock, tree and bush as cover and rarely chase prey far. Tigers are silent, taking cautious steps and keeping low to the ground so they are not sighted or heard by the prey. They typically kill by ambushing prey, throwing the prey off balance with their mass as they leap onto it. Tigers are successful predators but only 1 out of 10 to 20 attacks result in a successful hunt.
Tigers use one of two tactics when they get close enough to kill. Small animals, weighing less than half the body weight of the tiger, are killed by a bite to the back of the neck. The canines are inserted between the neck vertebrae forcing them apart and breaking the spinal cord. For larger animals, a bite to the throat is used to crush the animal’s trachea and suffocate it. The throat bite is the safer killing tactic because it minimizes any physical assault the tiger may receive while trying to kill its prey. After the prey is taken to cover, tigers feed first on the buttocks using the carnassials to rip open the carcass. As the tiger progresses it opens the body cavity and removes the stomach. Not all of the prey is eaten; some parts are rejected. Prey are usually dragged to cover and may be left there and revisited over several days.
The majority of the tiger diet consists of various large ungulate species, including sambar (Rusa unicolor), chital (Axis axis), hog deer (Axis porcinus), barasingha (Rucervus duvaucelii), barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak), elk (Cervus elaphus), sika deer (Cervus nippon), Eurasian elk (Alces alces), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), muskdeer (Moschus moschiferus), nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), black buck (Antilope cervicapra), gaur (Bos frontalis), banteng (Bos javanicus), water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), and wild pigs (Sus). Domestic ungulates are also taken, including cattle (Bos taurus), water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), horses (Equus caballus), and goats (Capra hircus). In rare cases tigers attack Malayan tapirs (Tapirus indicus), Indian elephants (Elephas maximus), and young Indian rhinoceroses (Rhinoceros unicornis). Tigers regularly attack and eat brown bears (Ursus arctos), Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus), and sloth bears (Melursus ursinus). Smaller animals are sometimes taken when larger prey is unavailable, this includes large birds such as pheasants (Phasianinae), leopards (Panthera pardus), fish, crocodiles (Crocodylus), turtles, porcupines (Hystrix), rats, and frogs. A very few tigers begin to hunt humans (Homo sapiens). Tigers will eat between 18 and 40 kg of meat when they successfully take large prey, they do not typically eat every day.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; reptiles; fish
Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)
Tigers help regulate populations of their large herbivore prey, which put pressure on plant communities. Because of their role as top predators, they may be considered keystone species.
Tiger parasites include the nematode, trematode, and cestode worms: Paragonimus westermani, Toxocara species, Uiteinarta species, Physaloptera praeputhostoma, Dirofilaria species, Gnathostoma spinigerum, Diphyllobothrium erinacei, Taenia bubesei, and Taenia pisiformis. Ticks known from tigers are Rhipicephalus annulatus, Dermacentor silvarum, Hyalomma truncatum, Hyalomma kumari, Hyalomma marginata, and Rhipicelphalus turanicus.
Ecosystem Impact: keystone species
Tigers have no natural predators, except for humans. Adult tigers are potential predators of younger cubs.
- humans (Homo sapiens)
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and Behavior
Communication and Perception
Communication among tigers is maintained by scent markings, visual signals, and vocalization. Scent markings are deposited in the form of an odorous musky liquid that is mixed with urine and sprayed on objects like grass, trees, or rocks. A facial expression called “flehmen” is often associated with scent detection. During flehmen, the tongue hangs over the incisors, the nose is wrinkled, and the upper canines are bared. Flehmen is commonly seen in males that have just sniffed urine, scent marks, an estrous tigress, or a cub of their own species.
Visual signals made by tigers include spots that have been sprayed, scrapes made by raking the ground, and claw marks left on trees or other objects. Schaller (1967) described a “defense threat” facial expression observed when a tiger is attacking. This involved pulling the corners of the open mouth back, exposing the canines, fattening the ears, and enlarging the pupils of the eyes. The spots on the back of their ears and their pattern of stripes may also be used in intraspecific communication.
Tigers can also communicate vocally with roars, growls, snarls, grunts, moans, mews, and hisses. Each sound has its own purpose, and appears to reflect the tiger's intent or mood. For example, a tiger’s roar is usually a signal of dominance; it tells other individuals how big it is and its location. A moan communicates submission. The ability of tigers to roar comes from having a flexible hyoid apparatus and vocal fold with a thick fibro- elastic pad that allows sound to travel long distances.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: choruses ; pheromones ; scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic
- Schaller, G. 1967. The deer and the tiger. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Tigers usually live 8 to 10 years in the wild, although they can reach ages into their 20's. In captivity tigers have been known to live up to 26 years old, although a typical captive lifespan is 16 to 18 years. It is estimated that most adult tigers die as a result of human persecution and hunting, although their large prey can occasionally wound them fatally. Young tigers face numerous dangers when they disperse from their mother's home range, including being attacked and eaten by male tigers. Some researchers estimate a 50% survival rate for young tigers.
Status: captivity: 26 (high) years.
Status: wild: 8 to 10 years.
Status: wild: 8 to 10 years.
Status: captivity: 16 to 18 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Tigers are solitary and do not associate with mates except for mating. Local males may compete for access to females in estrus.
Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)
Female tigers come into estrus every 3 to 9 weeks and are receptive for 3 to 6 days. They have a gestation period of about 103 days (from 96 to 111 days), after which they give birth to from 1 to 7 altricial cubs. Average litter sizes are 2 to 3 young. In Siberian tigers the average litter size is 2.65 (n=123), similar averages have been found in other tiger subspecies. Newborn cubs are blind and helpless, weighing from 780 to 1600 g. The eyes do not open until 6 to 14 days after birth and the ears from 9 to 11 days after birth. The mother spends most of her time nursing the young during this vulnerable stage. Weaning occurs at 90 to 100 days old. Cubs start following their mother at about 2 months old and begin to take some solid food at that time. From 5 to 6 months old the cubs begin to take part in hunting expeditions. Cubs stay with their mother until they are 18 months to 3 years old. Young tigers do not reach sexual maturity until around 3 to 4 years of age for females and 4 to 5 years of age for males.
Breeding interval: Female tigers give birth every 3 to 4 years, depending on the length of dependence of previous cubs.
Breeding season: Tigers can breed at any time of the year, but breeding is most common from November to April.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 7.
Average number of offspring: 2.65.
Range gestation period: 96 to 111 days.
Average gestation period: 103 days.
Average weaning age: 90 to 100 days.
Average time to independence: 18 months.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 3 to 4 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 4 to 5 years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); induced ovulation ; viviparous
Average birth mass: 1190 g.
Average number of offspring: 2.5.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 1415 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 1268 days.
Like other mammals, females care for and nurse their dependent young. Weaning occurs at 3 to 6 months, but cubs are dependent on their mother until they become proficient hunters themselves, when they reach 18 months to 3 years old. Young tigers must learn to stalk, attack, and kill prey from their mother. A mother caring for cubs must increase her killing rate by 50% in order to get enough nutrition to satisfy herself and her offspring. Male tigers do not provide parental care.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); extended period of juvenile learning
- Sunquist, M., F. Sunquist. 2002. Wild Cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Ullasa, K. 2001. The Way of the Tiger. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press.
- Mazak, V. 1981. Mammalian Species. Panthera tigris, 152: 1-8.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Panthera tigris
Public Records: 10
Specimens with Barcodes: 16
Species With Barcodes: 1
Barcode data: Panthera tigris
There are 12 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank. Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species. See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Also listed under C1+2a(i), as a precautionary approach finds that the population of breeding adult Tigers is likely fewer than 2,500 mature individuals. Estimates of the Tiger populations in 42 protected source sites where there is evidence of breeding total 2,154 Tigers (see Table) (Walston et al. 2010a). Although this is not a complete estimate of the global Tiger population (for example, most Amur Tigers in Russia are found in unprotected areas), generally Tiger status outside the source sites is poor and poorly known. IUCN Guidelines (IUCN Standards and Petitions Subcommittee 2010) define population as the number of mature individuals, defined as âindividuals known, estimated or inferred to be capable of reproduction.â While in general this refers to all reproductive-age adults in the population, the Guidelines also âstress that the intention of the definition of mature individuals is to allow the estimate of the number of mature individuals to take account of all the factors that may make a taxon more vulnerable than otherwise might be expected.â Tigers require large populations to persist, and the survival rate of breeding adult females is a key parameter, with models suggesting population declines when mortality of breeding females rises over 15% (Chapron et al. 2008). Population declines in recent years have been most pronounced outside protected areas (Walston et al. 2010b). The IUCN Guidelines advise that âmature individuals that will never produce new recruits should not be counted.â For the purposes of Red List assessment, the estimated population in the Source Sites is used as a proxy for the breeding population of adult Tigers. This population has declined by over 20% during the last two generations (13â20 years); the decline continues and may not be reversible; and no subpopulation is greater than 250 mature individuals.
- 2010Endangered(IUCN 2010.2)
- 1996Endangered(Baillie and Groombridge 1996)
- 1994Endangered(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Endangered(IUCN 1990)
- 1988Endangered(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
- 1986Endangered(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
Date Listed: 06/02/1970
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10)
Where Listed: Entire
Population location: Entire
Listing status: E
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Panthera tigris , see its USFWS Species Profile
Siberian (P. t. altaica), South China (P. t. amoyensis), and Sumatran tigers (P. t. sumatrae) are all critically endangered. Bengal (P. tigris tigris) and Indochinese tigers (P. tigris corbetti) are endangered. Bali (P. t. balica), Javan (P. t. sondaica), and Caspian tigers (P. tigris virgata) are extinct. The specific threats to tigers vary regionally, but human persecution, hunting, and human-induced habitat destruction are universal factors in threatening tiger populations.
US Federal List: endangered; threatened
CITES: appendix i
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered
2009 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species category: critically endangered (possibly extinct in the wild)The South China tiger is the most critically endangered of all of the living tiger subspecies. Its current status is uncertain.Some scientists believe there is no viable wild population left and consider the subspecies to be functionally extinct. It is generally believed that if a wild population does still exist it includes less than 30 animals.3 other tiger subspecies were lost to extinction in the 20th century. If the South China tiger follows suit, it would mean that 4 out of the 8 tiger subspecies have been wiped out forever.Around 80 South China tigers are thought to exist in captivity.
South China tigers were once considered pests by the Chinese government. This status led to them being hunted to the brink of extinction in the wild. However, in 1977 it became illegal to hunt them.Currently the biggest threats to any that remain in the wild are:
- destruction of their prey base
- population fragmentation
- loss of habitat due to conversion for livestock or commercial tree farms
What is being done to try to save the South China tiger?
The Chinese State Forestry Administration is supporting 2 parallel programmes to help re-establish the South China tiger in the wild. It is hoped that together these projects will result in self-sustaining populations of the tigers in forest habitats with sufficient prey.
- Nature reserves
This programme involves establishing special nature reserves in suitable areas to help the recovery of wild populations. It is a long-term effort being developed together with the South China Tiger Advisory Office and will involve habitat recovery, removal of threats to prey and prey breeding, as well as tiger reintroductions.
- Captive breeding and rewilding
Another organisation, Save China’s Tigers, is collaborating on a scheme to teach a selection of captive-bred South China tiger cubs to hunt live prey on a private reserve in South Africa. The offspring of these trained tigers will then be released onto pilot reserves in China. The first cub was born in 2007, the first to be born outside of China.
Unfortunately inbreeding is a significant concern for these tigers. When the scheme was officially approved in 2005, the captive population of South China tigers consisted of around 60 individuals in China, all descended from just 6 animals. This means there is very limited genetic diversity available for a successful breeding programme.
However, estimates of the Tiger populations in 42 protected source sites where there is evidence of breeding total 2,154 Tigers (Walston et al. 2010a, modified from their 2,126 to include the most recent published estimates from Nepal of Tiger populations in Chitwan, Bardia and Shuklaphanta). Although this is not a complete estimate of the global Tiger population (for example, most Amur Tigers in Russia are found in unprotected areas), generally Tiger status outside the source sites is poor and poorly known. IUCN Guidelines (IUCN Standards and Petitions Subcommittee 2010) define population as the number of mature individuals, defined as âindividuals known, estimated or inferred to be capable of reproduction.â While in general this refers to all reproductive-age adults in the population, the Guidelines also âstress that the intention of the definition of mature individuals is to allow the estimate of the number of mature individuals to take account of all the factors that may make a taxon more vulnerable than otherwise might be expected.â Tigers require large populations to persist, and the survival rate of breeding adult females is a key parameter, with models suggesting population declines when mortality of breeding females rises over 15% (Chapron et al. 2008). Population declines in recent years have been most pronounced outside protected areas (Walston et al. 2010b). The IUCN Guidelines advise that âmature individuals that will never produce new recruits should not be counted.â For the purposes of Red List assessment, the estimated population in the Source Sites is used as a proxy for the breeding population of adult Tigers.
In 1998, the global Tiger population was estimated, less rigorously, at 5,000 to 7,000 Tigers (Seidensticker et al. 1999). Although to some extent the new numbers represent improved knowledge, it is clear that there have been substantial population declines, with Tigers all but eliminated from much of their recent forest range, particularly in Southeast Asia.
Follow the link below for further information about national Tiger population estimates.
Asia is a densely populated and rapidly developing region, bringing huge pressures to bear on the large wild areas required for viable Tiger populations. Conversion of forest land to agriculture and silviculture, commercial logging, and human settlement are the main drivers of Tiger habitat loss. With their substantial dietary requirements, Tigers require a healthy large ungulate prey base, but these species are also under heavy human subsistence hunting pressure and competition from domestic livestock.
Tiger attacks on livestock and people can lead to intolerance of Tigers by neighbouring communities and presents an ongoing challenge to managers to build local support for Tiger conservation. In some areas there have been many human deaths - for example, 41 people were killed by Tigers in the Sundarbans mangrove forest of Bangladesh during an 18-month period in 2001â2003 (Khan 2004).
The future of Tiger range depends upon the Asian governments creating effective Tiger landscapes by conserving large areas of suitable habitat. Within these landscapes, the most urgent need is to first secure the source sitesâprotected areas with viable Tiger populationsâwhere most of the global Tiger population is now clustered, and many of which are currently too threatened to deliver their potential as the wellspring of species recovery (Walston et al. 2010b).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
Normally tigers avoid human contact, very rarely tigers may become “man eaters”. A man-eating tigress was rumored to have killed over 430 people, including 234 over the course of four years. It is thought that man-eating tigers are those that cannot effectively prey on large ungulated because they have become crippled, are old, or no longer have suitable native habitat and prey available. Because human populations are rapidly increasing, competition over natural resources is increasing pressure on tigers and their habitat and increasing the likelihood of negative human-tiger interactions.
Negative Impacts: injures humans (bites or stings)
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
Live tigers are of economic importance in zoos where they are displayed to the public and in wildlife areas where they may bring in tourism. Tigers are illegally killed for their fur to make rugs and wall hangings. In addition, for more than 3000 years traditional Chinese medicine has used tiger parts to treat sickness and injury. The humerus (upper leg bone), for example, has been prescribed to treat rheumatism even though there is no evidence that it has any affect on the disease. Some believe that tiger bones will help them become as strong and ferocious as the tiger.
Positive Impacts: pet trade ; food ; body parts are source of valuable material; ecotourism ; research and education
The tiger (Panthera tigris) is the largest cat species, reaching a total body length of up to 3.38 m (11.1 ft) over curves and weighing up to 388.7 kg (857 lb) in the wild. Its most recognisable feature is a pattern of dark vertical stripes on reddish-orange fur with a lighter underside. The species is classified in the genus Panthera with the lion, leopard and jaguar. Tigers are apex predators, primarily preying on ungulates such as deer and bovids. They are territorial and generally solitary but social animals, often requiring large contiguous areas of habitat that support their prey requirements. This, coupled with the fact that they are indigenous to some of the more densely populated places on Earth, has caused significant conflicts with humans.
Tigers once ranged widely across Asia, from Turkey in the west to the eastern coast of Russia. Over the past 100 years, they have lost 93% of their historic range, and have been extirpated from southwest and central Asia, from the islands of Java and Bali, and from large areas of Southeast and Eastern Asia. Today, they range from the Siberian taiga to open grasslands and tropical mangrove swamps. The remaining six tiger subspecies have been classified as endangered by IUCN. The global population in the wild is estimated to number between 3,062 and 3,948 individuals, down from around 100,000 at the start of the 20th century, with most remaining populations occurring in small pockets isolated from each other. Major reasons for population decline include habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation and poaching. The extent of area occupied by tigers is estimated at less than 1,184,911 km2 (457,497 sq mi), a 41% decline from the area estimated in the mid-1990s.
Tigers are among the most recognisable and popular of the world's charismatic megafauna. They have featured prominently in ancient mythology and folklore, and continue to be depicted in modern films and literature. They appear on many flags, coats of arms, and as mascots for sporting teams. The tiger is the national animal of Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Malaysia and South Korea.
- 1 Taxonomy and etymology
- 2 Description
- 3 Distribution and habitat
- 4 Biology and behaviour
- 5 Conservation efforts
- 6 Relation with humans
- 7 Cultural depictions
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Bibliography
- 11 External links
Taxonomy and etymology
In 1758, Linnaeus first described the species in his work Systema Naturae under the scientific name Felis tigris. In 1929, the British taxonomist Reginald Innes Pocock subordinated the species under the genus Panthera using the scientific name Panthera tigris.
The word Panthera is probably of Oriental origin and retraceable to the Ancient Greek word panther, the Latin word panthera, the Old French word pantere, most likely meaning "the yellowish animal", or from pandarah meaning whitish-yellow. The derivation from Greek pan- ("all") and ther ("beast") may be folk etymology.
The specific epithet, tigris, as well as the common name, tiger, come from the Middle English tigre and the Old English tigras (a plural word), both used for the animal. These derive from the Old French tigre, itself a derivative of the Latin word tigris and the Greek word tigris. The original source may have been the Persian tigra meaning pointed or sharp and the Avestan tigrhi meaning an arrow, perhaps referring to the speed with which a tiger launches itself at its prey.
The tiger's closest living relatives are the lion, leopard and jaguar, all of which are classified under the genus Panthera. The oldest remains of an extinct tiger relative, called Panthera zdanskyi or the Longdan tiger, have been found in the Gansu province of northwestern China. This species is considered to be a sister taxon to the extant tiger and lived about 2 million years ago, at the beginning of the Pleistocene. It was smaller than the modern tiger, being the size of a jaguar, and probably did not have the same coat pattern. Despite being considered more "primitive", the Longdan tiger was functionally and possibly ecologically similar to its modern cousin. As Panthera zdanskyi lived in northwestern China, that may have been where the tiger lineage originated. Tigers grew in size, possibly in response to adaptive radiations of prey species like deer and bovids which may have occurred in Southeast Asia during the early Pleistocene.
The earliest fossils of true tigers are from Java, and are between 1.6 and 1.8 million years old. Distinct fossils are known from the early and middle Pleistocene deposits in China and Sumatra. A subspecies called the Trinil tiger (Panthera tigris trinilensis) lived about 1.2 million years ago and is known from fossils found at Trinil in Java.
Tigers first reached India and northern Asia in the late Pleistocene, reaching eastern Beringia (but not the American Continent), Japan, and Sakhalin. Fossils found in Japan indicate the local tigers were, like the surviving island subspecies, smaller than the mainland forms, an example of insular dwarfism. Until the Holocene, tigers also lived in Borneo, as well as on the island of Palawan in the Philippines.
There are 10 recognized tiger subspecies. One, the Trinil, became extinct in prehistoric times. The remaining subspecies all survived at least into the mid-20th century; three of these are also considered extinct. Their historical range in Bangladesh, Siberia, Iran, Afghanistan, India, China, and southeast Asia, including three Indonesian islands, is severely diminished today. The modern subspecies are:
|Bengal tiger (P. t. tigris), also called the Indian tiger||Lives in India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh, and is the most common subspecies. In 2011, the total adult population was estimated at 1,520–1,909 in India, 440 in Bangladesh, 155 in Nepal and 75 in Bhutan. It lives in alluvial grasslands, subtropical and tropical rainforests, scrub forests, wet and dry deciduous forests, and mangroves. It is the second-largest of the surviving subspecies. Males attain a total nose-to-tail length of 270 to 310 cm (110 to 120 in) and weigh between 180 to 260 kg (400 to 570 lb), while females range from 240 to 265 cm (94 to 104 in) and 100 to 160 kg (220 to 350 lb). In northern India and Nepal, the average is larger; males can weigh up to 235 kilograms (518 lb), while females average 140 kilograms (310 lb).|
|Indochinese tiger (P. t. corbetti), also called Corbett's tiger||Is found in Cambodia, China, Laos, Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam. In 2010 the total population was estimated at about 350 individuals. Their preferred habitat is forests in mountainous or hilly regions. Males average 108 inches (270 cm) in total length and weigh between 150–195 kg (331–430 lb), while females average 96 inches (240 cm) and 100–130 kg (220–290 lb).|
|Malayan tiger (P. t. jacksoni)||Exclusively found in the southern part of the Malay Peninsula. Was not considered a subspecies in its own right until a 2004 genetic analysis showed that they are distinct in mtDNA and micro-satellite sequences from the Indochinese subspecies. As of 2014 the total population is estimated at 500 individuals. Males range in total length from 190–280 cm (75–110 in) and weigh between 47.2 to 129.1 kg (104 to 285 lb), while females range from 180–260 cm (71–102 in) and 24 to 885 kg (53 to 1,951 lb).52 to 195 lb (24 to 88 kg).|
|Siberian tiger (P. t. altaica), also known as the Amur tiger||Inhabits the Amur-Ussuri region of Primorsky Krai and Khabarovsk Krai in far eastern Siberia, with the exception of a small population in Hunchun National Siberian Tiger Nature Reserve in northeastern China, near the border of North Korea. In 2005, there were 331–393 adult and subadult Siberian tigers in the region, with a breeding adult population of about 250 individuals. As of 2014, the World Wildlife Fund estimates a total population of 400. It is the largest subspecies and ranks among the largest felids ever to have existed. Males have a head and body length of between 190–230 cm (75–91 in) and weigh between 180 to 306 kg (397 to 675 lb), while females average 160–180 cm (63–71 in) and 100 to 167 kg (220 to 368 lb). Tail length is about 60–110 cm (24–43 in). Compared to other subspecies, Siberian tigers have thicker coats, paler hues, and fewer stripes.|
|South China tiger (P. t. amoyensis), also known as the Amoy or Xiamen tiger||Is the most critically endangered subspecies of tiger, and one of the 10 most endangered animals in the world. Despite unconfirmed reports and some evidence of footprints, there has been no confirmed wild sighting in over 25 years, leading experts to consider it "functionally extinct", with the entire known population of roughly 65+ individuals held in captivity. It is the second-smallest subspecies. Males range in total length from 230–260 cm (91–102 in) and weigh between 130 to 180 kg (290 to 400 lb), while females range from 220–240 cm (87–94 in) and 100 to 110 kg (220 to 240 lb). The South China tiger is considered to be the most ancient of the tiger subspecies and is distinguished by a particularly narrow skull, long nose, rhombus-like stripes and vivid orange colour.|
|Sumatran tiger (P. t. sumatrae)||Found only on the island of Sumatra, and is thus the last surviving of the three Indonesian island subspecies. Listed as a distinct subspecies as of 1998, when genetic testing revealed the presence of unique genetic markers, and is critically endangered. As of 2014 the wild population is estimated at between 400 and 500, seen chiefly in the island's national parks. It is the smallest of all living tigers. Males range in total length from 220 to 225 cm (87 to 89 in) and weigh between 100 to 140 kg (220 to 310 lb), while females range between 215 to 230 cm (85 to 91 in) and 75 to 110 kg (165 to 243 lb). Their reduced size is an adaptation to the thick, dense forests and smaller prey in their native habitat. This subspecies also has the darkest coat, with more narrowly-spaced stripes and a longer mane and beard.|
|Bali tiger (P. t. balica)||Was limited to the Indonesian island of Bali. Had a weight of 90–100 kg (200–220 lb) in males and 65–80 kg (143–176 lb) in females. Bali tigers were hunted to extinction; the last Bali tiger, an adult female, is thought to have been killed at Sumbar Kima, West Bali, on 27 September 1937, though there were unconfirmed reports that villagers found a tiger corpse in 1963. The Bali tiger is reported to have had some spots in-betweens its stripes.|
|Caspian tiger (P. t. virgata), also known as the Hyrcanian tiger or Turan tiger||Was found in the sparse forest habitats and riverine corridors west and south of the Caspian Sea and west through Central Asia into the Takla-Makan desert of Xinjiang, and had been recorded in the wild until the early 1970s. The Amur tiger is the genetically closest living relative of the Caspian tiger.|
|Javan tiger (P. t. sondaica)||Was limited to the island of Java, and had been recorded until the mid-1970s. Javan tigers were larger than Bali tigers; males weighed 100–140 kg (220–310 lb) and females 75–115 kg (165–254 lb). After 1979, no more sightings were confirmed in the region of Mount Betiri. An expedition to Mount Halimun Salak National Park in 1990 did not yield any definite, direct evidence for the continued existence of tigers.|
Lions have been known to breed with tigers (most often the Amur and Bengal subspecies) to create hybrids called ligers and tigons. Such hybrids were once commonly bred in zoos, but this is now discouraged due to the emphasis on conservation. Hybrids are still bred in private menageries and in zoos in China.
The liger is a cross between a male lion and a tigress. Because the lion sire passes on a growth-promoting gene, but the corresponding growth-inhibiting gene from the female tiger is absent, ligers grow far larger than either parent. They share physical and behavioural qualities of both parent species (spots and stripes on a sandy background). Male ligers are sterile, but female ligers are often fertile. Males have about a 50% chance of having a mane, but, even if they do, their manes will be only around half the size of that of a pure lion. Ligers are typically between 10 and 12 feet in length, and can weigh between 800 and 1,000 pounds or more.
The less common tigon is a cross between a lioness and a male tiger. Because the male tiger does not pass on a growth-promoting gene and the lioness passes on a growth inhibiting gene, tigons are often relatively small, only weighing up to 150 kg (350 lb), which is about 10–20% smaller than lions. Like ligers, they have physical and behavioural traits from both parental species, and males are sterile. Females are sometimes fertile and have occasionally given birth to litigons when mated to a lion.
Tigers have muscular bodies with powerful forelimbs, large heads and long tails. The pelage is dense and heavy; coloration varies between shades of orange and brown with white ventral areas and distinctive vertical black stripes, whose patterns are unique to each individual. Their function is likely for camouflage in vegetation such as long grass with strong vertical patterns of light and shade. The tiger is one of only a few striped cat species; it is not known why spots are the more common camouflage pattern among felids. The tiger's stripes are also found on the skin, so that if it were to be shaved, its distinctive coat pattern would still be visible. They have a mane-like heavy growth of fur around the neck and jaws and long whiskers, especially in males. The pupils are circular with yellow irises. The small, rounded ears have a prominent white spot on the back, surrounded by black. These false "eyespots", called ocelli, apparently play an important role in intraspecies communication.
The skull is similar to that of the lion, though the frontal region is usually not as depressed or flattened, with a slightly longer postorbital region. The skull of a lion has broader nasal openings. However, due to variation in skulls of the two species, the structure of the lower jaw is a more reliable indicator of species. The tiger also has fairly stout teeth; the somewhat curved canines are the longest among living felids with a crown height of up to 90 mm (3.5 in).
The oldest recorded captive tiger lived for 26 years. A wild specimen, having no natural predators, could in theory live to a comparable age.
Tigers are the most variable in size of all big cats, much more so than lions. The Bengal and Siberian subspecies are the tallest at the shoulder and thus considered the largest living felids, ranking with the extinct Caspian tiger among the biggest that ever existed. An average adult male tiger from Northern India or Siberia outweighs an average adult male lion by around 45.5 kg (100 lb). Males vary in total length from 250 to 390 cm (98 to 154 in) and weigh between 90 to 306 kg (198 to 675 lb) with skull length ranging from 316 to 383 mm (12.4 to 15.1 in). Females vary in total length from 200 to 275 cm (79 to 108 in), weigh 65 to 167 kg (143 to 368 lb) with skull length ranging from 268 to 318 mm (10.6 to 12.5 in). In either sex, the tail represents about 0.6 to 1.1 m (24 to 43 in) of total length.
Body size of different populations seems to be correlated with climate—Bergmann's rule—and can be explained by thermoregulation. Large male Siberian tigers can reach a total length of more than 3.5 m (11.5 ft) over curves and 3.3 m (10.8 ft) between pegs, and can weigh up to 306 kg (675 lb). This is considerably larger than the weight of 75 to 140 kg (165 to 309 lb) reached by the smallest living subspecies, the Sumatran tiger. At the shoulder, tigers may variously stand 0.7 to 1.22 m (2.3 to 4.0 ft) tall. The current record weight in the wild was 389 kg (858 lb) for a Bengal tiger shot in 1967.
They are a notably sexually dimorphic species, females being consistently smaller than males. The size difference between males and females is proportionally greater in the larger tiger subspecies, with males weighing up to 1.7 times more than females. Males also have wider forepaw pads than females, enabling gender to be told from tracks.
A well-known allele found only in the Bengal subspecies produces the white tiger, a color variant first recorded in the early 19th century and found in an estimated one in 10,000 natural births. Genetically, whiteness is recessive: a cub is white only when both parents carry the allele for whiteness. It is not albinism, pigment being evident in the white tiger's stripes and in their blue eyes. The causative mutation changes a single amino acid in the transporter protein SLC45A2.
White tigers are more frequently bred in captivity, where the comparatively small gene pool can lead to inbreeding. Attempts have been made to cross white and orange tigers to remedy this, often mixing subspecies in the process. Inbreeding has given white tigers a greater likelihood of being born with physical defects, such as cleft palate, scoliosis (curvature of the spine), and strabismus (squint). Even apparently healthy white tigers generally do not live as long as their orange counterparts.
Another recessive gene creates the "golden" or "golden tabby" color variation, sometimes known as "strawberry". Golden tigers have thicker than usual light-gold fur, pale legs, and faint orange stripes. Few golden tigers are kept in captivity; they are invariably at least part Bengal. Some golden tigers carry the white tiger gene, and when two such tigers are mated, they can produce some stripeless white offspring. Although a "pseudo-melanistic" effect—wide stripes that partially obscure the orange background—has been seen in some pelts, no true black tigers have been authenticated, with the possible exception of one dead specimen examined in Chittagong in 1846. These wholly or partially melanistic tigers, if they exist, are assumed to be intermittent mutations rather than a distinct species. There are further unconfirmed reports of a "blue" or slate-colored variant, the Maltese tiger. However, while some felids do exhibit this coloration as a solid coat, there is no known genetic configuration that would result in black stripes on a blue-gray background.
Distribution and habitat
In the past, tigers were found throughout Asia, from the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea to Siberia and the Indonesian islands of Java, Bali and Sumatra. Fossil remains indicate tigers were also present in Borneo and Palawan in the Philippines during the late Pleistocene and Holocene.
During the 20th century, tigers became extinct in western Asia and were restricted to isolated pockets in the remaining parts of their range. They were extirpated on the island of Bali in the 1940s, around the Caspian Sea in the 1970s, and on Java in the 1980s. This was the result of habitat loss and the ongoing killing of tigers and tiger prey. Today, their fragmented and partly degraded range extends from India in the west to China and Southeast Asia. The northern limit of their range is close to the Amur River in southeastern Siberia. The only large island they still inhabit is Sumatra. Since the beginning of the 20th century, tigers' historical range has shrunk by 93%. In the decade from 1997 to 2007, the estimated area known to be occupied by tigers has declined by 41%.
Tigers can occupy a wide range of habitat types, but will usually require sufficient cover, proximity to water, and an abundance of prey. Compared to the lion, the tiger prefers denser vegetation, for which its camouflage colouring is ideally suited, and where a single predator is not at a disadvantage compared with the multiple felines in a pride. A further habitat requirement is the placement of suitably secluded den locations, which may consist of caves, large hollow trees, or dense vegetation. Bengal tigers in particular live in many types of forests, including wet, evergreen, and the semievergreen of Assam and eastern Bengal; the swampy mangrove forest of the Ganges Delta; the deciduous forest of Nepal, and the thorn forests of the Western Ghats. In various parts of their range they inhabit or have inhabited additionally partially open grassland and savanna as well as taiga forests and rocky habitats.
Biology and behaviour
Adult tigers lead largely solitary lives. They establish and maintain home ranges. Resident adults of either sex generally confine their movements to a territory, within which they satisfy their needs and those of their growing cubs. Individuals sharing the same area are aware of each other's movements and activities. The size of the home range mainly depends on prey abundance, and, in the case of males, on access to females. A tigress may have a territory of 20 km2 (7.7 sq mi), while the territories of males are much larger, covering 60 to 100 km2 (23 to 39 sq mi). The range of a male tends to overlap those of several females, providing him with a large field of prospective mating partners.
Unlike many felids, tigers are strong swimmers and often deliberately bathe in ponds, lakes and rivers as a means of keeping cool in the heat of the day. Among the big cats, only the jaguar shares a similar fondness for water. They may cross rivers up to 7 km (4.3 mi) across and can swim up to 29 km (18 mi) in a day. They are able to carry prey through or capture it in the water.
Young female tigers establish their first territories close to their mother's. The overlap between the female and her mother's territory reduces with time. Males, however, migrate further than their female counterparts and set out at a younger age to mark out their own area. A young male acquires territory either by seeking out an area devoid of other male tigers, or by living as a transient in another male's territory until he is older and strong enough to challenge the resident male. Young males seeking to establish themselves thereby comprise the highest mortality rate (30–35% per year) amongst adult tigers.
To identify his territory, the male marks trees by spraying urine and anal gland secretions, as well as marking trails with scat and marking trees or the ground with their claws. Females also use these "scrapes", as well as urine and scat markings. Scent markings of this type allow an individual to pick up information on another's identity, sex and reproductive status. Females in oestrus will signal their availability by scent marking more frequently and increasing their vocalizations.
Although for the most part avoiding each other, tigers are not always territorial and relationships between individuals can be complex. An adult of either sex will sometimes share its kill with others, even those who may not be related to them. George Schaller observed a male share a kill with two females and four cubs. Unlike male lions, male tigers allow females and cubs to feed on the kill before the male is finished with it; all involved generally seem to behave amicably, in contrast to the competitive behaviour shown by a lion pride. This quotation is from Stephen Mills' book Tiger, describing an event witnessed by Valmik Thapar and Fateh Singh Rathore in Ranthambhore National Park:
A dominant tigress they called Padmini killed a 250 kg (550 lb) male nilgai – a very large antelope. They found her at the kill just after dawn with her three 14-month-old cubs and they watched uninterrupted for the next ten hours. During this period the family was joined by two adult females and one adult male, all offspring from Padmini's previous litters, and by two unrelated tigers, one female the other unidentified. By three o'clock there were no fewer than nine tigers round the kill.
Male tigers are generally more intolerant of other males within their territories than females are of other females. Territory disputes are usually solved by displays of intimidation rather than outright aggression. Several such incidents have been observed in which the subordinate tiger yielded defeat by rolling onto its back and showing its belly in a submissive posture. Once dominance has been established, a male may tolerate a subordinate within his range, as long as they do not live in too close quarters. The most aggressive disputes tend to occur between two males when a female is in oestrus, and may rarely result in the death of one of the males.
Facial expressions include the "defense threat", where an individual bares its teeth, flattens its ears and its pupils enlarge. Males often use the flehmen response when identifying a female's reproductive status by sniffing her urine markings, and can be seen making the characteristic grimace. Like other Panthera, tigers roar, particularly in aggressive situations, during the mating season or when making a kill. There are two different roars: the "true" roar is made using the hyoid apparatus and forced through an open mouth as it progressively closes, and the shorter, harsher "coughing" roar is made with the mouth open and teeth exposed. The "true" roar can be heard at up to 3 km (1.9 mi) away and is sometimes emitted three or four times in succession. When tense, tigers will moan, a sound similar to a roar but more subdued and made when the mouth is partially or completely closed. Moaning can be heard 400 m (1,300 ft) away. Chuffing, soft, low-frequency snorting similar to purring in smaller cats, is heard in more friendly situations. Other vocal communications include grunts, woofs, snarls, miaows, hisses and growls.
Tigers have been studied in the wild using a variety of techniques. The populations of tigers have been estimated using plaster casts of their pugmarks, although this method was criticized as being inaccurate. More recent attempts have been made using camera trapping and studies on DNA from their scat, while radio collaring has been used to track tigers in the wild.
Hunting and diet
In the wild, tigers mostly feed on large and medium-sized animals, preferring native ungulates weighing at least 90 kg (200 lb). They typically have little or no deleterious effect on their prey populations. Sambar deer, chital, barasingha, wild boar, gaur, nilgai and both water buffalo and domestic buffalo, in descending order of preference, are the tiger's favoured prey in Tamil Nadu, India, while gaur and sambar are the preferred prey and constitute the main diet of tigers in other parts of India. They also prey on other predators, including dogs, leopards, pythons, sloth bears, and crocodiles. In Siberia, the main prey species are Manchurian wapiti and wild boar (the two species comprising nearly 80% of the prey selected) followed by sika deer, moose, roe deer, and musk deer. In addition, Asiatic black bears and brown bears make up 5–8% of the tiger's diet in the Russian Far East. In Sumatra, prey include sambar deer, muntjac, wild boar, and Malayan tapir. In the former Caspian tiger's range, prey included saiga antelope, camels, Caucasian wisent, yak, and wild horses. Like many predators, tigers are opportunistic and may eat much smaller prey, such as monkeys, peafowl and other ground-based birds, hares, porcupines, and fish.
Tigers generally do not prey on fully grown adult Asian elephants and Indian rhinoceros but incidents have been reported. More often, it is the more vulnerable small calves that are taken. Tigers have been reported attacking and killing elephants ridden by humans during tiger hunts in the nineteenth century. When in close proximity to humans, tigers will also sometimes prey on such domestic livestock as cattle, horses, and donkeys. Old or wounded tigers, unable to catch wild prey, can become man-eaters; this pattern has recurred frequently across India. An exception is in the Sundarbans, where healthy tigers prey upon fishermen and villagers in search of forest produce, humans thereby forming a minor part of the tiger's diet. Although almost exclusively carnivorous, tigers will occasionally eat vegetation for dietary fibre. The fruit of the slow match tree is a favorite.
Tigers are thought to be mainly nocturnal predators, but in areas where humans are typically absent, they have been observed via remote-controlled, hidden cameras, hunting in daylight. They generally hunt alone and ambush their prey as most other cats do, overpowering them from any angle, using their body size and strength to knock the prey off balance. Successful hunts usually require the tiger to almost simultaneously leap onto its quarry, knock it over, and grab the throat or nape with its teeth. Despite their large size, tigers can reach speeds of about 49–65 km/h (30–40 mph) but only in short bursts; consequently, tigers must be close to their prey before they break cover. If the prey catches wind of the tiger's presence before this, the tiger usually abandons the hunt rather than chase prey or battle it head-on. Horizontal leaps of up to 10 m (33 ft) have been reported, although leaps of around half this distance are more typical. One in 2 to 20 hunts, including stalking near potential prey, ends in a successful kill.
When hunting larger animals, tigers prefer to bite the throat and use their powerful forelimbs to hold onto the prey, often simultaneously wrestling it to the ground. The tiger remains latched onto the neck until its target dies of strangulation. By this method, gaurs and water buffaloes weighing over a ton have been killed by tigers weighing about a sixth as much. Although they can kill healthy adults, tigers often select the calves or infirm of very large species. Healthy adult prey of this type can be dangerous to tackle, as long, strong horns, legs and tusks are all potentially fatal to the tiger. No other extant land predator routinely takes on prey this large on their own. Whilst hunting sambars, which comprise up to 60% of their prey in India, tigers have reportedly made a passable impersonation of the male sambar's rutting call to attract them. With smaller prey, such as monkeys and hares, the tiger bites the nape, often breaking the spinal cord, piercing the windpipe, or severing the jugular vein or common carotid artery. Though rarely observed, some tigers have been recorded to kill prey by swiping with their paws, which are powerful enough to smash the skulls of domestic cattle, and break the backs of sloth bears.
During the 1980s, a tiger named "Genghis" in Ranthambhore National Park was observed frequently hunting prey through deep lake water, a pattern of behaviour that had not previously been witnessed in over 200 years of observations. Moreover, he appeared to be unusually successful, with 20% of hunts ending in a kill.
After killing their prey, tigers sometimes drag it to conceal it in vegetative cover, usually pulling it by grasping with their mouths at the site of the killing bite. This, too, can require great physical strength. In one case, after it had killed an adult gaur, a tiger was observed to drag the massive carcass over a distance of 12 m (39 ft). When 13 men simultaneously tried to drag the same carcass later, they were unable to move it. An adult tiger can go for up to two weeks without eating, then gorge on 34 kg (75 lb) of flesh at one time. In captivity, adult tigers are fed 3 to 6 kg (6.6 to 13.2 lb) of meat a day.
Interaction with other predators
Tigers usually prefer to eat prey they have caught themselves, but are not above eating carrion in times of scarcity and may even pirate prey from other large carnivores. Although predators typically avoid one another, if a prey item is under dispute or a serious competitor is encountered, displays of aggression are common. If these are not sufficient, the conflicts may turn violent; tigers may kill competitors as leopards, dholes, striped hyenas, wolves, bears, pythons and even crocodiles on occasion. In some cases, rather than being strictly competitive, the attacks by tigers on other large carnivores seem to be predatory in nature. Situations where smaller predators, such as badgers, lynxes, and foxes are attacked, are almost certainly predatory. Crocodiles, bears and dholes may win conflicts against tigers and in some cases even kill them.
The considerably smaller leopard avoids competition from tigers by hunting at different times of the day and hunting different prey. In India's Nagarhole National Park, most prey selected by leopards were from 30 to 175 kg (66 to 386 lb) against a preference for prey weighing over 176 kg (388 lb) in the tigers. The average prey weight in the two respective big cats in India was 37.6 kg (83 lb) against 91.5 kg (202 lb). With relatively abundant prey, tigers and leopards were seen to successfully coexist without competitive exclusion or interspecies dominance hierarchies that may be more common to the African savanna (where the leopard may coexist with the lion). Lone golden jackals expelled from their pack have been known to form commensal relationships with tigers. These solitary jackals, known as kol-bahl, will attach themselves to a particular tiger, trailing it at a safe distance to feed on the big cat's kills.
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Mating can occur all year round, but is more common between November and April. A female is only receptive for three to six days. Mating is frequent and noisy during that time. Gestation can range from 93 to 112 days, the average being 105 days. The litter is usually two or three cubs, occasionally as few as one or as many as six. Cubs weigh from 680 to 1,400 g (1.50 to 3.09 lb) each at birth, and are born blind and helpless. The females rear them alone, with the birth site and maternal den in a sheltered location such as a thicket, cave or rocky crevice. The father generally takes no part in rearing them. Unrelated wandering male tigers may kill cubs to make the female receptive, since the tigress may give birth to another litter within five months if the cubs of the previous litter are lost. The mortality rate of tiger cubs is about 50% in the first two years. Few other predators attack tiger cubs due to the diligence and ferocity of the mother tiger. Apart from humans and other tigers, common causes of cub mortality are starvation, freezing, and accidents.
A dominant cub emerges in most litters, usually a male. This cub is more active than its siblings and takes the lead in their play, eventually leaving its mother and becoming independent earlier. The cubs open their eyes at six to fourteen days old. By eight weeks, the cubs make short ventures outside the den with their mother, although they do not travel with her as she roams her territory until they are older. The cubs are nursed for three to six months. Around the time they are weaned, they start to accompany their mother on territorial walks and they are taught how to hunt. The cubs often become capable (and nearly adult size) hunters at eleven months old. The cubs become independent around eighteen months of age, but it is not until they are around two to two and a half years old that they fully separate from their mother. Females reach sexual maturity at three to four years, whereas males do so at four to five years.
The tiger is an endangered species. Poaching for fur and body parts and destruction of habitat have simultaneously greatly reduced tiger populations in the wild. At the start of the 20th century, it is estimated there were over 100,000 tigers in the wild, but the population has dwindled outside of captivity to between 1,500 and 3,500. Major reasons for population decline include habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation and poaching. Demand for tiger parts for use in traditional chinese medicine has also been cited as a major threat to tiger populations. Some estimates suggest that there are less than 2,500 mature breeding individuals, with no subpopulation containing more than 250 mature breeding individuals. The global wild tiger population was estimated by the World Wide Fund for Nature at 3,200 in 2011. The exact number of wild tigers is unknown, as many estimates are outdated or are educated guesses; few estimates are based on reliable scientific censuses. The table shows estimates per country according to IUCN and range country governments.
India is home to the world's largest population of wild tigers but only 11% of the original Indian tiger habitat remains, and it has become fragmented and degraded. From 1973, India's Project Tiger, started by Indira Gandhi, established over 25 tiger reserves in reclaimed land, where human development was forbidden. The project was credited with tripling the number of wild Bengal tigers from some 1,200 in 1973 to over 3,500 in the 1990s, but a 2007 census showed that numbers had dropped back to about 1,400 tigers because of poaching. Following the report, the Indian government pledged $153 million to the initiative, set up measures to combat poaching, promised funds to relocate up to 200,000 villagers in order to reduce human-tiger interactions, and set up eight new tiger reserves. India also reintroduced tigers to the Sariska Tiger Reserve and by 2009 it was claimed that poaching had been effectively countered at Ranthambore National Park. The Wildlife Conservation Society and Panthera Corporation formed the collaboration Tigers Forever, with field sites including the world's largest tiger reserve, the 21,756 km2 (8,400 sq mi) Hukaung Valley in Myanmar. Other reserves were in the Western Ghats, in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, the Russian Far East and China, covering in total about 260,000 km2 (100,000 sq mi).
In the 1940s, the Siberian tiger was on the brink of extinction with only about 40 animals remaining in the wild in Russia. As a result, anti-poaching controls were put in place by the Soviet Union and a network of protected zones (zapovedniks) were instituted, leading to a rise in the population to several hundred. Poaching again became a problem in the 1990s, when the economy of Russia collapsed. The major obstacle in preserving the species is the enormous territory individual tigers require (up to 450 km2 needed by a single female and more for a single male). Current conservation efforts are led by local governments and NGO's in concert with international organisations, such as the World Wide Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society. The competitive exclusion of wolves by tigers has been used by Russian conservationists to convince hunters to tolerate the big cats. Tigers have less impact on ungulate populations than do wolves, and are effective in controlling the latter's numbers. In 2005, there were thought to be about 360 animals in Russia, though these exhibited little genetic diversity.
Having earlier rejected the Western-led environmentalist movement, China changed its stance in the 1980s and became a party to the CITES treaty. By 1993 it had banned the trade in tiger parts, and this diminished the use of tiger bones in traditional Chinese medicine. After this, the Tibetan people's trade in tiger skins became a relatively more important threat to tigers. The pelts were used in clothing, tiger-skin chuba being worn by singers and participants in horse racing festivals, and had became status symbols. In 2004, international conservation organizations launched successful environmental propaganda campaigns in China against the Tibetan tiger skin trade. There was outrage in India, where many Tibetans live, and the 14th Dalai Lama was persuaded to take up the issue. Since then there has been a change of attitude, with some Tibetans publicly burning their chubas.
In 1994, the Indonesian Sumatran Tiger Conservation Strategy addressed the potential crisis that tigers faced in Sumatra. The Sumatran Tiger Project (STP) was initiated in June 1995 in and around the Way Kambas National Park in order to ensure the long-term viability of wild Sumatran tigers and to accumulate data on tiger life-history characteristics vital for the management of wild populations. By August 1999, the teams of the STP had evaluated 52 sites of potential tiger habitat in Lampung Province, of which only 15 these were intact enough to contain tigers. In the framework of the STP a community-based conservation programme was initiated to document the tiger-human dimension in the park in order to enable conservation authorities to resolve tiger-human conflicts based on a comprehensive database rather than anecdotes and opinions.
In 1978, the Indian conservationist Billy Arjan Singh attempted to rewild a tiger in Dudhwa National Park; this was the captive-bred tigress Tara. Soon after the release, numerous people were killed and eaten by a tigress that was subsequently shot. Government officials claimed it was Tara, though Singh disputed this. Further controversy broke out with the discovery that Tara was partly Siberian tiger.
Relation with humans
Tiger as prey
The tiger has been one of the Big Five game animals of Asia. Tiger hunting took place on a large scale in the early nineteenth and twentieth centuries, being a recognised and admired sport by the British in colonial India as well as the maharajas and aristocratic class of the erstwhile princely states of pre-independence India. A single maharaja or English hunter could claim to kill over a hundred tigers in their hunting career. Tiger hunting was done by some hunters on foot; others sat up on machans with a goat or buffalo tied out as bait; yet others on elephant-back.
Wild tigers that have had no prior contact with humans actively avoid interactions with humans. However, tigers cause more human deaths through direct attack than any other wild mammal. Attacks are occasionally provoked, as tigers lash out after being injured while they themselves are hunted. Attacks can be provoked accidentally, as when a human surprises a tiger or inadvertently comes between a mother and her young, or as in a case in rural India when a postman startled a tiger, used to seeing him on foot, by riding a bicycle. Occasionally tigers come to view people as prey. Such attacks are most common in areas where population growth, logging, and farming have put pressure on tiger habitats and reduced their wild prey. Most man-eating tigers are old, are missing teeth, and are unable to capture their preferred prey. For example, the Champawat Tiger, a tigress found in Nepal and then India, had two broken canines. She was responsible for an estimated 430 human deaths, the most attacks known to be perpetrated by a single wild animal, by the time she was shot in 1907 by Jim Corbett. According to Corbett, tiger attacks on humans are normally in daytime, when people are working outdoors and are not keeping watch. Early writings tend to describe man-eating tigers as cowardly because of their ambush tactics.
Man-eaters have been a particular problem in recent decades in India and Bangladesh, especially in Kumaon, Garhwal and the Sundarbans mangrove swamps of Bengal, where some healthy tigers have hunted humans. Because of rapid habitat loss attributed to climate change, tiger attacks have increased in the Sundarbans. The Sundarbans area had 129 human deaths from tigers from 1969 to 1971. In the 10 years prior to that period, about 100 attacks per year in the Sundarbans, with a high of around 430 in some years of the 1960s. Unusually, in some years in the Sundarbans, more humans are killed by tigers than vice versa. In 1972, India's production of honey and beeswax dropped by 50% when at least 29 people who gathered these materials were devoured. In 1986 in the Sundarbans, since tigers almost always attack from the rear, masks with human faces were worn on the back of the head, on the theory that tigers usually do not attack if seen by their prey. This decreased the number of attacks only temporarily. All other means to prevent attacks, such as providing more prey or using electrified human dummies, worked less well.
In some cases, rather than being predatory, tiger attacks on human seem to be territorial in nature. At least in one case, a tigress with cubs killed eight people entering her territory without consuming them at all.
Commercial hunting and traditional medicine
Historically, tigers have been hunted at a large scale so their famous striped skins could be collected. The trade in tiger skins peaked in the 1960s, just before international conservation efforts took effect. By 1977, a tiger skin in an English market was considered to be worth $4,250 US dollars.
Many people in China and other parts of Asia have a belief that various tiger parts have medicinal properties, including as pain killers and aphrodisiacs. There is no scientific evidence to support these beliefs. The use of tiger parts in pharmaceutical drugs in China is already banned, and the government has made some offences in connection with tiger poaching punishable by death. Furthermore, all trade in tiger parts is illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and a domestic trade ban has been in place in China since 1993.
However, the trading of tiger parts in Asia has become a major black market industry and governmental and conservation attempts to stop it have been ineffective to date. Almost all black marketers engaged in the trade are based in China and have either been shipped and sold within in their own country or into Taiwan, South Korea or Japan. The Chinese subspecies was almost completely decimated by killing for commerce due to both the parts and skin trades in the 1950s through the 1970s. Contributing to the illegal trade, there are a number of tiger farms in the country specialising in breeding the cats for profit. It is estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 captive-bred, semi-tame animals live in these farms today. However, many tigers for traditional medicine black market are wild ones shot or snared by poachers and may be caught anywhere in the tiger's remaining range (from Siberia to India to the Malay Peninsula to Sumatra). In the Asian black market, a tiger penis can be worth the equivalent of around $300 U.S. dollars. In the years of 1990 through 1992, 27 million products with tiger derivatives were found. In July 2014 at an international convention on endangered species in Geneva, Switzerland, a Chinese representative admitted for the first time his government was aware trading in tiger skins was occurring in China.
In Ancient Roman times, tigers were kept in menageries and amphitheatres to be exhibited, trained and paraded, and were often provoked to fight humans and exotic beasts. Since the seventeenth century, tigers, being rare and ferocious, were sought after to keep at European castles as symbols of their owners' power. Tigers became central zoo and circus exhibits in the eighteenth century: a tiger could cost up to 4,000 francs in France (for comparison, a professor of the Beaux-Arts at Lyons earned only 3,000 francs a year), or up to $3,500 in the United States where a lion cost no more than $1,000.
China (2007) had over 4,000 captive tigers, of which 3,000 were held by about twenty larger facilities, with the rest held by some 200 smaller facilities. The USA (2011) had 2,884 tigers in 468 facilities. Nineteen states have banned private ownership of tigers, fifteen require a license, and sixteen states have no regulation. Genetic ancestry of 105 captive tigers from fourteen countries and regions showed that forty-nine animals belonged distinctly to five subspecies; fifty-two animals had mixed subspecies origins.
The Tiger Species Survival Plan has condemned the breeding of white tigers, alleging they are of mixed ancestry and of unknown lineage. The genes responsible for white coloration are represented by 0.001% of the population. The disproportionate growth in numbers of white tigers points to inbreeding among homozygous recessive individuals. This would lead to inbreeding depression and loss of genetic variability.
Tigers and their superlative qualities have been a source of fascination for mankind since ancient times, and they are routinely visible as important cultural and media motifs. They are also considered one of the charismatic megafauna, and are used as the face of conservation campaigns worldwide. In a 2004 online poll conducted by cable television channel Animal Planet, involving more than 50,000 viewers from 73 countries, the tiger was voted the world's favourite animal with 21% of the vote, narrowly beating the dog.
In myth and legend
In Chinese myth and culture, the tiger is one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. In Chinese art, the tiger is depicted as an earth symbol and equal rival of the Chinese dragon – the two representing matter and spirit respectively. The Southern Chinese martial art Hung Ga is based on the movements of the tiger and the crane. In Imperial China, a tiger was the personification of war and often represented the highest army general (or present day defense secretary), while the emperor and empress were represented by a dragon and phoenix, respectively. The White Tiger (Chinese: 白虎; pinyin: Bái Hǔ) is one of the Four Symbols of the Chinese constellations. It is sometimes called the White Tiger of the West (西方白虎), and it represents the west and the autumn season.
In Buddhism, the tiger is one of the Three Senseless Creatures, symbolising anger, with the monkey representing greed and the deer lovesickness. The Tungusic people considered the Siberian tiger a near-deity and often referred to it as "Grandfather" or "Old man". The Udege and Nanai called it "Amba". The Manchu considered the Siberian tiger as Hu Lin, the king. The Hindu ten-armed warrior goddess Durga rides the tigress (or lioness) Damon into battle. In southern India the god Ayyappan was associated with a tiger.
In literature and film
In William Blake's poem in the Songs of Experience, titled "The Tyger," the tiger is a menacing and fearful animal. In Yann Martel's 2001 Man Booker Prize winning novel Life of Pi, the protagonist, surviving shipwreck for months in a small boat, somehow avoids being eaten by the other survivor, a large Bengal tiger. The story was adapted in Ang Lee's 2012 feature film of the same name. Jim Corbett's 1944 Man-Eaters of Kumaon tells ten true stories of his tiger-hunting exploits in what is now the northern Uttarakhand region of India. The book has sold over four million copies, and has been the basis of both fictional and documentary films. In Rudyard Kipling's 1894 The Jungle Book, the tiger, Shere Khan, is the mortal enemy of the human protagonist, Mowgli; the book has formed the basis of both live-action and animated films. Other tiger characters aimed at children tend to be more benign, as for instance Tigger in A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh and Hobbes of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, both of whom are represented as simply stuffed animals come to life.
As a symbol
The tiger is one of the animals displayed on the Pashupati seal of the Indus Valley Civilisation. The tiger crest is the emblem on the Chola coins. The seals of several Chola copper coins show the tiger, the Pandya emblem fish and the Chera emblem bow, indicating that the Cholas had achieved political supremacy over the latter two dynasties. Gold coins found in Kavilayadavalli in the Nellore district of Andra Pradesh have motifs of the tiger, bow and some indistinct marks.
The Bengal tiger is the national animal of India and Bangladesh. The Malaysian tiger is the national animal of Malaysia. The Siberian tiger is the national animal of South Korea. Since the successful economies of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore were described as the Four Asian Tigers, a tiger economy is a metaphor for a nation in rapid development. Tiger are also mascots for various sports teams around the world. Tony the Tiger is a famous mascot for Kellogg's breakfast cereal Frosted Flakes. The Esso (Exxon) brand of petrol was advertised from 1969 onwards with the slogan 'put a tiger in your tank', and a tiger mascot; more than 2.5 million synthetic tiger tails were sold to motorists, who tied them to their petrol tank caps.
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White tigers are a kind of tiger whose fur is white or almost white. This coloration is caused by a recessive gene. White tigers have been known to inhabit many parts of East Asia, including India and China. However, their current range has been much reduced due to over-hunting of their pelts.
Compared to orange tigers without the white gene, white tigers tend to be larger both at birth and at full adult size. This may have given them an advantage in the wild despite their unusual coloration. Heterozygous orange tigers also tend to be larger than other orange tigers. Kailash Sankhala, the director of the New Delhi Zoo in the 1960s, said "one of the functions of the white gene may have been to keep a size gene in the population, in case it's ever needed."
Dark-striped white individuals are well-documented in the Bengal Tiger subspecies, also known as the Royal Bengal or Indian tiger, (Panthera tigris tigris or P. t. bengalensis), may also have occurred in captive Siberian Tigers (Panthera tigris altaica), and may have been reported historically in several other subspecies. White pelage is most closely associated with the Bengal, or Indian subspecies. Currently, several hundred white tigers are in captivity worldwide with about 100 of them in India, and their numbers are on the increase. The modern population includes both pure Bengals and hybrid Bengal–Siberians, but it is unclear whether the recessive gene for white came only from Bengals, or from any of the Siberian ancestors as well.
The unusual coloration of white tigers has made them popular in zoos and entertainment that showcases exotic animals. The magicians Siegfried & Roy are famous for having bred and trained two white tigers for their performances, referring to them as "royal white tigers" perhaps from the white tiger's association with the Maharaja of Rewa. The exotic-tiger performance trio of Ron Holiday, Joy Holiday and Chuck Lizza—subjects of the HBO documentary film Cat Dancers—worked with a white tiger which ended up killing two of them.
White tigers in the wild
An article appeared in the Miscellaneous Notes of the Journal Of The Bombay Natural History Society on November 15, 1909, which reported that a white tigress was shot in the Mulin Sub-Division Forest of the Dhenkanal State in Orissa. The report originally appeared in the Indian Forester in May 1909, and was made by Mr. Bavis Singh, Forest Officer. The ground colour of the white tigress was described as pure white and the stripes as deep reddish-black. It was shot over a buffalo kill and "was in good condition not showing any signs of disease." Col. F.T. Pollock wrote in Wild Sports of Burma and Assam, "Occasionally white tigers are met with. I saw a magnificent skin of one at Edwin Wards in Wimpole Street, and Mr. Shadwall, Assistant Commissioner in Cossyah and Jynteah Hills, also has two skins quite white." Mr. Lydekker wrote in Game Animals of India (1907) about five more white tiger skins: "A white tiger was exhibited alive at Exeter Change about 1820; a second was killed in Poona about 1892; in March 1899, a white tiger was shot in Upper Assam and the skin sent to Calcutta, where a fourth specimen was received about the same time. The Maharaja of Kuch-Behar also possesses a white tiger-skin." The white tiger exhibited at Exeter Change in London in 1820 was the first white tiger in Europe.
S.H. Prater wrote in The book of Indian Animals (1948) that "White or partially white tigers are not uncommon in some of the dry open jungles of central India." It is a myth that white tigers did not thrive in the wild. India planned to reintroduce captive-bred white tigers to the wild to a special reserve near Rewa. In the wild, white tigers reproduced and bred for generations. A.A. Dunbar Brander wrote in Wild animals in central India (1923) that "White tigers occasionally occur. There is a regular breed of these animals in the neighborhood of Amarkantak at the junction of the Rewa state and the Mandla and Bilaspur districts. When I was last in Mandla in 1919, a white tigress and two three parts grown white cubs existed. In 1915 a male was trapped by the Rewa state and confined. An excellent description of the animal, by Mr. Scott of the Indian police, has been published in Vol. XXVII No. 47 of the Bombay Natural History Society's journal."
The previously mentioned article from The Journal Of The Bombay Natural History Society "Miscellaneous Notes: No. 1-A WHITE TIGER IN CAPTIVITY (with a photo)" states that "The white tiger in captivity in Rewa was caught in December 1915 in the jungles of the State near Sohagpur. He was about two years of age at the time. There were two more white tigers in Southern Rewa related to this tiger but it was believed that the mother of this animal was not white... A white tiger was killed by a Sardar in Sohargpur Tahasil, Southern Rewa, about 10 or 12 years ago. Two other tigers appeared in the beat near Shahdol and Annuppur, B.N.Ry., but His late Highness' orders were that these should not be shot. The one at Annuppur (Bhilam Dungari Jungle) was said to be the brother of the one in captivity. These white tigers roam in the neighboring British Districts of the Central Provinces and seem to be living in the Maikal ranges of mountains." There is ample evidence that white tigers survived as adults in the wild. There were reports of white tigers from Burma and the Jynteah Hills of Meghalaya made by Pollock in the 1900s. Between 1892 and 1922, white tigers were shot in Poona, Upper Assam, Orissa, Balispur, and Cooch Behar. White tigers were shot in different regions in the 1920s and 1930s. Fifteen were shot in Bihar in this same time period. Trophies are on display in the Calcutta Museum and at Mica Camp, Tisri, in Bihar. There are more records of white tigers in Rowland Ward's Records of Big Game.
Victor H. Cahalane reported white tigers in northern China in 1943: "...north China has produced a number of albinos, with the inevitable faint brown stripe. Very rare melanistic (black) tigers are known." However, white tigers are not albinos. These tigers were white individuals of the Amur tiger subspecies (Panthera tigris altaica), also known as the Siberian tiger. White tigers were reported in northern China and Korea. White tigers have cultural significance in both countries. They are also part of the folklore on Sumatra and Java.
Jim Corbett filmed a white tigress in the wild which had two orange cubs. This film footage was used in the 1984 National Geographic movie Man Eaters Of India, which is based on Jim Corbett's 1957 book by the same title. This is further proof that white tigers survived and reproduced in the wild. The website of the Bandhavgarh National Park, in the former princely state of Rewa, in Madhya Pradesh, features pictures of white tigers, and states "The forests of Bandhavgarh are the white tiger jungles of yesteryears." Today, there are 46 to 52 orange tigers living in Bandhavgarh, the largest population of tigers in any national park in India.
White Siberian Tigers
The existence of pure white Siberian tigers has not been scientifically proven, despite occasional reports of sightings of white tigers in the regions where wild Siberian tigers live. It is quite possible that the gene for white coating does not exist in the Siberian tiger population, since no pure white Siberian tigers have been born in captivity even though the Siberian tiger has been extensively bred during the last few decades. The wild Siberian tiger population nearly went extinct during the middle of the 20th century, so it is also possible that the Siberian tigers carrying the gene for white coating died out during this period. More research is necessary before scientists can fully understand the genetic make up of the Siberian tiger.
The famous white Siberian tigers found in captivity are actually not pure Siberian tigers. They are instead the result of Siberian tigers breeding with Bengal tigers. The gene for white coating is quite common among Bengal tigers, but the natural birth of a white Bengal tiger is still a very rare occasion in the wild, where white tigers are not bred selectively. A white tiger is caused by the occurrence of a double recessive allele in the genome. Estimations show that around one in 10,000 wild tiger births will result in a white tiger.
The white tiger is not considered a tiger subspecies, but rather a mutant variant of the existing tiger subspecies. If a pure white Siberian tiger were to be born, it would therefore not be selectively bred within the tiger conservation programs. It would, however, probably still be selectively bred outside the program in an effort to create more white Siberian tigers. Due to the popularity of white tigers, they are used to attract visitors to zoos and will hopefully help raise awareness about all tigers and their situation.
Stripeless white tigers and golden tabby tigers
An additional genetic condition can remove most of the striping of a white tiger, making the animal almost pure white. One such specimen was exhibited at Exeter Change in England in 1820, and described by Georges Cuvier as "A white variety of Tiger is sometimes seen, with the stripes very opaque, and not to be observed except in certain angles of light." Naturalist Richard Lydekker said that, "a white tiger, in which the fur was of a creamy tint, with the usual stripes faintly visible in certain parts, was exhibited at the old menagerie at Exeter Change about the year 1820." Hamilton Smith said, "A wholly white tiger, with the stripe-pattern visible only under reflected light, like the pattern of a white tabby cat, was exhibited in the Exeter Change Menagerie in 1820.", and John George Wood stated that, "a creamy white, with the ordinary tigerine stripes so faintly marked that they were only visible in certain lights." Edwin Henry Landseer also drew this tigress in 1824.
The modern strain of snow white tigers came from repeated brother–sister matings of Bhim and Sumita at Cincinnati Zoo. The gene involved may have come from a Siberian tiger, via their part-Siberian ancestor Tony. Continued inbreeding appears to have caused a recessive gene for stripelessness to show up. About one fourth of Bhim and Sumita's offspring were stripeless. Their striped white offspring, which have been sold to zoos around the world, may also carry the stripeless gene. Because Tony's genome is present in many white tiger pedigrees, the gene may also be present in other captive white tigers. As a result, stripeless white tigers have appeared in zoos as far afield as the Czech Republic, Spain and Mexico. Stage magicians Siegfried & Roy were the first to attempt to selectively breed tigers for stripelessness; they owned snow-white Bengal tigers taken from Cincinnati Zoo (Tsumura, Mantra, Mirage and Akbar-Kabul) and Guadalajara, Mexico (Vishnu and Jahan), as well as a stripeless Siberian tiger called Apollo.
Stripeless white tigers were thought to be sterile until Siegfried & Roy's stripeless white tigress Sitarra, a daughter of Bhim and Sumita, gave birth. Another variation which came out of the white strains were unusually light-orange tigers called "golden tabby tigers". These are probably orange tigers which carry the stripeless white gene as a recessive. Some white tigers in India are very dark, between white and orange.
Genetics and albinism
A white tiger's pale coloration is caused by the presence of a recessive gene. Another genetic characteristic makes the stripes of the tiger very pale; white tigers of this type are called snow-white or "pure white". White tigers are not albinos and do not constitute a separate subspecies of their own and can breed with orange ones, although (approx.) half of the resulting offspring will be heterozygous for the recessive white gene, and their fur will be orange. The only exception would be if the orange parent was itself already a heterozygous tiger, which would give each cub a 50% chance of being either double-recessive white or heterozygous orange. If two heterozygous tigers, or heterozygotes, breed on average 25% of their offspring will be white, 50% will be heterozygous orange (white gene carriers) and 25% will be homozygous orange, with no white genes. In the 1970s a pair of heterozygous orange tigers named Sashi and Ravi produced 13 cubs in Alipore Zoo, of which 3 were white. If two white tigers breed, 100% of their cubs will be homozygous white tigers. A tiger which is homozygous for the white gene may also be heterozygous or homozygous for many different genes. The question of whether a tiger is heterozygous (a heterozygote) or homozygous (a homozygote) depends on the context of which gene is being discussed. Inbreeding promotes homozygosity and has been used as a strategy to produce white tigers.
Contrary to popular belief, white tigers are not albinos; true albino tigers would have no stripes. Even the "stripeless" white tigers known today actually have very pale stripes.
Part of the confusion is due to the misidentification of the so-called chinchilla gene (for white) as an allele of the albino series (publications prior to the 1980s refer to it as an albino gene). The mutation is recessive to normal colour, which means that two orange tigers carrying the mutant gene may produce white offspring, and white tigers bred together will produce only white cubs. The stripe colour varies due to the influence and interaction of other genes.
While the inhibitor ("chinchilla") gene affects the colour of the hair shaft, there is a separate "wide-band" gene affecting the distance between the dark bands of colour on agouti hairs. An orange tiger who inherits two copies of this wide-band gene becomes a golden tabby; a white who inherits two copies becomes almost or completely stripeless. Inbreeding allows the effect of recessive genes to show up, hence the ground and stripe colour variations among white tigers.
As early as 1907, naturalist Richard Lydeker doubted the existence of albino tigers. However, we do have a report of true albinism: in 1922, two pink-eyed albino cubs were shot along with their mother at Mica Camp, Tisri, in the Cooch Behar district, according to Victor N. Narayan in a ”Miscellaneous Note” in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. The albinos were described as sickly-looking sub-adults, with extended necks and pink eyes.
White tigers, Siamese cats, and Himalayan rabbits have enzymes in their fur which react to temperature, causing them to grow darker in the cold. A white tiger named Mohini was whiter than her relatives in the Bristol Zoo, who showed more cream tones. This may have been because she spent less time outdoors in the winter. White tigers produce a mutated form of tyrosinase, an enzyme used in the production of melanin, which only functions at certain temperatures (below 98° Fahrenheit). This is why Siamese cats and Himalayan rabbits are darker on their faces, ears, legs, and tails (the colour points), where the cold penetrates more easily. This is called acromelanism, and other cats breeds derived from the Siamese, such as the Himalayan and the snowshoe cat, also exhibit the condition. K.S. Sankhala, who was director of the New Delhi Zoo in the 1960s, observed that white tigers were always whiter in Rewa, even when they were born in New Delhi and returned there. "In spite of living in a dusty courtyard, they were always snow white." A weakened immune system is directly linked to reduced pigmentation in white tigers.
Outside of India, white tigers have been prone to crossed eyes, a condition known as strabismus, an example of which is "Clarence the cross-eyed lion", due to incorrectly routed visual pathways in the brains of white tigers. When stressed or confused, all white tigers cross their eyes, according to tiger trainer Andy Goldfarb. Strabismus is associated with white tigers of mixed Bengal/Siberian ancestry. The only pure-Bengal white tiger reported to be cross-eyed was Mohini's daughter Rewati. Strabismus is directly linked to the white gene and is not a separate consequence of inbreeding. The orange littermates of white tigers are not prone to strabismus. Siamese cats and albinos of every species which have been studied all exhibit the same visual pathway abnormality found in white tigers. Siamese cats are also sometimes cross-eyed, as are some albino ferrets. The visual pathway abnormality was first documented in white tigers in the brain of a white tiger called Moni after he died, although his eyes were of normal alignment. The abnormality is that there is a disruption in the optic chiasm. The examination of Moni's brain suggested the disruption is less severe in white tigers than it is in Siamese cats. Because of the visual pathway abnormality, by which some of the optic nerves are routed to the wrong side of the brain, white tigers have a problem with spatial orientation, and bump into things until they learn to compensate. Some tigers compensate by crossing their eyes. When the neurons pass from the retina to the brain and reach the optic chiasma, some cross and some do not, so that visual images are projected to the wrong hemisphere of the brain. White tigers cannot see as well as normal tigers and suffer from photophobia, like albinos.
There is a 450 lbs. male cross-eyed white tiger, named Namaste, at the Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo in Hawaii, which was donated to the zoo by Las Vegas magician Dirk Arthur. There is a picture of a white tiger which appears to be cross-eyed on just one side in Siegfried & Roy's book "Mastering The Impossible". A white tiger, named Scarlett O'Hara, who was Tony's sister, was cross-eyed only on the right side. Scarlett was the only one of three white tigers born at Kingdoms 3, the Henry County, Georgia animal park in June 1977 to survive. Scarlett was to have undergone an operation to tighten and loosen two muscles to turn the eye straight, which is a fairly routine operation in humans. She was sent to the Grady Memorial Hospital's animal research clinic in Atlanta. Her owner, Baron Julius Von Uhl, was the lion tamer at the park, and his ophthalmologist was to perform the surgery. Scarlett had an adverse reaction to the anaesthesia and died. The Atlanta Zoo veterinarian Morton Silberman said "There is always a chance of there being other genetic defects" and some of these could have effected her ability to withstand anaesthesia. Tiger trainer Alan Gold said that attempts to correct crossed eyes in white tigers through surgery have been unsuccessful because the problem is not in their eyes, it's in their brain. White tigers with crossed eyes are not always born that way; they may develop the condition later in life. Ika, one of the male white tigers from Kesari's 1976 litter, was not cross-eyed as a cub. He developed strabismus later on. Rewati was also not cross-eyed as a cub. Cincinnati Zoo director Ed Maruska commented on white tigers having crossed eyes: "In 52 white tiger births, there were four cases of strabismus, all from the four white offspring of Kesari and Tony. Bhim and Sumita (siblings) were retained and all of their offspring had normal set eyes except one male from their first litter. Because strabismus is of rare occurrence and probably linked to the white coat gene, it is probable that it might be further reduced or even eliminated by selective breeding."
A male white tiger named Cheytan, a son of Bhim and Sumita born at the Cincinnati Zoo, died at the San Antonio Zoo in 1992 from anaesthesia complications during a root canal. It appears that white tigers also react strangely to anaesthesia. The best drug for immobilizing a tiger is CI 744, but a few tigers, white ones in particular, undergo a re-sedation effect 24–36 hours later. This is due to their inability to produce normal tyrosinase, a trait they share with albinos, according to zoo veterinarian David Taylor. He treated a pair of white tigers from the Cincinnati Zoo at Fritz Wurm's safari park in Stukenbrock, Germany, for salmonella poisoning, which reacted strangely to the anaesthesia.
Mohini was checked for Chédiak-Higashi syndrome in 1960, but the results were inconclusive. This condition is similar to albino mutations and causes bluish lightening of the fur colour, crossed eyes, and prolonged bleeding after surgery. Also, in the event of an injury, the blood is slow to coagulate. This condition has been observed in domestic cats, but there has never been a case of a white tiger having Chédiak-Higashi syndrome. There has been a single case of a white tiger having central retinal degeneration, reported from the Milwaukee County Zoo, which could be related to reduced pigmentation in the eye. The white tiger in question was a male named Mota on loan from the Cincinnati Zoo.
There is a myth, that white tigers have an 80% infant mortality rate. However, the infant mortality rate for white tigers is no higher than it is for normal orange tigers bred in captivity. Cincinnati Zoo director Ed Maruska said: "We have not experienced premature death among our white tigers. Forty-two animals born in our collection are still alive. Mohan, a large white tiger, died just short of his 20th birthday, an enviable age for a male of any subspecies, since most males live shorter captive lives. Premature deaths in other collections may be artifacts of captive environmental conditions... In 52 births we had four stillbirths, one of which was an unexplained loss. We lost two additional cubs from viral pneumonia, which is not excessive. Without data from non-inbred tiger lines, it is difficult to determine whether this number is high or low with any degree of accuracy." Ed Maruska also addressed the issue of deformities: "Other than a case of hip dysplasia that occurred in a male white tiger, we have not encountered any other body deformities or any physiological or neurological disorders. Some of these reported maladies in mutant tigers in other collections may be a direct result of inbreeding or improper rearing management of tigers generally."
Other genetic problems include shortened tendons of the forelegs, club foot , kidney problems, arched or crooked backbone and twisted neck. Reduced fertility and miscarriages, noted by ”tiger man” Kailash Sankhala in pure-Bengal white tigers were attributed to inbreeding depression. A condition known as "star-gazing", which is associated with inbreeding in big cats, has also been reported in white tigers. Some of the white tigers born to North American lines have bulldog faces with a snub nose, jutting jaw, domed head and wide-set eyes with an indentation between the eyes. However, some of these traits may be linked to poor diet rather than inbreeding.
Inbreeding and outcrossing
Because of the extreme rarity of the white tiger allele in the wild, the breeding pool was limited to the small number of white tigers in captivity. According to Kailash Sankhala, the last white tiger ever seen in the wild was shot in 1958. Today, there is such a large number of white tigers in captivity that inbreeding is no longer necessary. A white Amur tiger may have been born at Center Hill and has given rise to a strain of white Amur tigers. The white tiger pictured on the right is at the ZooParc de Beauval in France, and came from Center Hill. A man named Robert Baudy realized that his tigers had white genes when a tiger he sold to Marwell Zoo in England developed white spots, and bred them accordingly. The Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa Bay has four of these white Amur tigers, descended from Robert Baudy's stock.
It has also been possible to expand the white-gene pool by outcrossing white tigers with unrelated orange tigers and then using the cubs to produce more white tigers. The white tigers Ranjit, Bharat, Priya and Bhim were all outcrossed, in some instances to more than one tiger. Bharat was bred to an unrelated orange tiger named Jack from the San Francisco Zoo and had an orange daughter named Kanchana. Bharat and Priya were also bred with an unrelated orange tiger from Knoxville Zoo, and Ranjit was bred to this tiger's sister, also from Knoxville Zoo. Bhim fathered several litters with an unrelated orange tigress named Kimanthi at the Cincinnati Zoo. Ranjit had several mates at the Omaha Zoo.
The last descendants of Bristol Zoo's white tigers were a group of orange tigers from outcrosses which were bought by a Pakistani senator and shipped to Pakistan. Rajiv, Pretoria Zoo's white tiger, who was born in the Cincinnati Zoo, was also outcrossed and sired at least two litters of orange cubs at Pretoria Zoo. Outcrossing is not necessarily done with the intent of producing more white cubs by resuming inbreeding further down the line.
Outcrossing is a way of bringing fresh blood into the white strain. The New Delhi Zoo loaned out white tigers to some of India's better zoos for outcrossing, and the government had to impose a whip to force zoos to return either the white tigers or their orange offspring.
Siegfried & Roy performed at least one outcross. In the mid-1980s they offered to work with the Indian government in the creation of a healthier strain of white tigers. The Indian government reportedly considered the offer; however, India had a moratorium on breeding white tigers after cubs were born at New Delhi Zoo with arched backs and clubbed feet, necessitating euthanasia. Siegfried & Roy have bred white tigers in collaboration with the Nashville Zoo and they appeared on Larry King with white tiger cubs born at said zoo.
In Rewa, hunters' diaries recorded 9 white tigers in the fifty years prior to 1960. The Journal of The Bombay Natural History Society reported 17 white tigers shot between 1907 and 1933. E.P. Gee collected accounts of 35 white tigers from the wild up to 1959, with still more uncounted from Assam where he had his tea plantation, although Assam, with its humid jungles, was considered a likelier haunt for black tigers by Gee. Some white tigers in the wild had reddish stripes, and were known as "red tigers." The Boga-bagh, or "white tiger," Tea Estate in upper Assam, was named that after two white tigers were shot there in the early 1900s. Arthur Locke writing in "The Tigers Of Trengganu" (1954) mentions white tigers.
In some regions, the animal is part of local tradition. In China, it was revered as the god of the West, Baihu (Byakko in Japan and Baek-ho in Korea), associated with autumn and metal. In South Korea, a white tiger is represented on the taegeuk emblem on the flag – the white tiger symbolising evil, opposite the green dragon for good. In Indian superstition, the white tiger was the incarnation of a Hindu deity, and anyone who killed it would die within a year. Sumatran and Javan royalty claimed descent from white tigers, and the animals were regarded as the reincarnations of royalty. In Java, the white tiger was associated with the vanished Hindu kingdoms and with ghosts and spirits. It was also the icon guardian of the seventeenth century court.
White tigers with dark stripes were recorded in the wild in India during the Mughal Empire (1556–1605). A painting from 1590 of Akbar hunting near Gwalior depicts four tigers, two of which appear white. As many as 17 instances of white tigers were recorded in India between 1907 and 1933 in several separate locations: Orissa, Bilaspur, Sohagpur and Rewa. On January 22, 1939, the Prime Minister of Nepal shot a white tiger at Barda camp in Terai, Nepal. The last observed wild white tiger was shot in 1958, and the mutation is believed to be extinct in the wild. There have been rumors of white tigers in the wild in India since then, but none have been considered credible. It has been suggested from the casual way that Jim Corbett makes reference to a white tigress, which he filmed with two orange cubs, in his "Man-Eaters of Kumaon" that white tigers were nothing out of the ordinary to him. Corbett's black and white film footage is probably the only film in existence of a white tiger in the wild. It illustrates again that white tigers survived and reproduced in the wild. The film was used in a National Geographic docu-drama "Man-eaters of India", about Corbett's life, based on his 1957 book by the same title. One theory of white tigers holds that they were symptomatic of inbreeding as a consequence of over hunting and habitat loss, as tiger populations became isolated. In 1965, there was a chair upholstered with a white tiger skin in the "India collection" of Marjorie Merriweather Post, at her Hillwood estate in Washington D.C., which is now operated as a museum. A color photograph of this item appeared in the November 5, 1965 issue of Life magazine. In the October 1975 issue of National Geographic, there is a photograph of the minister of defense for the United Arab Emirates with a stuffed white tiger in his office. The actor Cesar Romero owned a white tiger skin.
White tigers appear frequently in literature, video games, television and comic books. Such examples include the Swedish rock band Kent, which featured a white tiger on the cover of their best-selling album Vapen & ammunition in 2002. This was a tribute to the band's home town Eskilstuna, as the local zoo in town had white tigers from the Hawthorn Circus as its main attraction. The white tiger has also been featured in the video for the song "Human" by the popular American synth-rock band The Killers. White Tiger is also the name of an American glam metal band from the 1980s.
Aravind Adiga's novel, "The White Tiger", won the Man Booker Prize in 2008. The central character and narrator refers to himself as "The White Tiger". It was a nickname given to him as a child to denote that he was unique in the "jungle" (his hometown), that he was smarter than the others.
Games including white tigers include Zoo Tycoon and the Warcraft universe. Both the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and the Japanese Super Sentai series from which the Power Rangers series are based have used White Tiger themed mecha. The White Ranger from Power Rangers: Wild Force and its Sentai counterpart also has the powers of the White Tiger, as well as the White Tiger-themed mecha.
A trained white tiger from the Bowmanville Zoo in Ontario, Canada, was used in the Animorphs TV series. White Tigers are also seen in Heroes of Might and Magic IV, where they are a lvl 2 unit for the nature team. Even White Tiger and The Justice Friends were on Dexter's Laboratory, and a white tiger named White Blaze is frequently shown in the anime Ronin Warriors. White Tigers are featured as a wild, tamable "pet" companion in Guild Wars Factions. Finally, the popularity of white tigers has led private users to create mods or game patches for Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion which changes the Khajit species to possess white tiger aspects, including realistic height and body sizes in relation to the standard orange Khajit.
Other popular culture mentions include the Beast Wars character Tigatron who transformed into a white tiger, the White Tiger comic book hero and also the outstanding former member of the Kansas State Wildcats men's basketball team Darren "White Tiger" Kent. In the film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, white tigers are seen fighting for the White Witch.
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