Description and Behavior Part One
Largest of the extant cats and comparable in size to the biggest of the fossil felids (Mazák 1981), the tiger is also one of the best-known large mammals. The reddish-orange to yellow-ochre coat with black stripes and white belly is immediately recognizable. The tiger is generally divided into the following subspecies (Mazák 1981):

    Bengal tiger P.t. tigris (Linnaeus, 1758)
    Indian subcontinent

    Caspian tiger P.t. virgata (Illiger, 1815)
    Turkey through Central and West Asia

    Amur tiger P.t. altaica (Temminck, 1844)
    Amur river region of Russia and China, and North Korea

    Javan tiger P.t. sondaica (Temminck, 1844)
    Java, Indonesia

    South China tiger P.t. amoyensis (Hilzheimer, 1905)
    South-central China

    Bali tiger P.t. balica (Schwarz, 1912)
    Bali, Indonesia

    Sumatran tiger P.t. sumatrae Pocock, 1929
    Sumatra, Indonesia

    Indo-Chinese tiger P.t. corbetti Mazák, 1968
    Continental South-East Asia

Size variation in tiger subspecies (adult specimens)
(Mazák 1981)

  Weight (kg) Total length (m)1 Skull length (mm)
Subspecies Male Female Male Female Male Female
tigris 180-258 100-160 2.7-3.1 2.4-2.65 329-378 275-311
virgata 170-240 85-135 2.7-2.95 2.4-2.6 316-369 268-305
altaica 180-306 100-167 2.7-3.3 2.4-2.75 341-383 279-318
sondaica 100-141 75-115 2.48- –  – 306-349 270-292
amoyensis 130-175 100-115 2.3-2.65 2.2-2.4 318-343 273-301
balica 90-100 65- 80 2.2-2.3 1.9-2.1 295-298 263-269
sumatrae 100-140 75-110 2.2-2.55 2.15-2.3 295-335 263-294
corbetti 150-195 100-130 2.55-2.85 2.3-2.55 319-365 279-302
1 Measured “between pegs”.

Three races - virgata Caspian, balica Bali and sondaica Javan tigers -- have become extinct since the 1950s.

Tiger subspecies have been evaluated using both morphological and molecular methodologies (Hemmer 1978b, 1987; Mazák 1981, 1983; Herrington 1987). Herrington (1987) was able to distinguish six subspecies reliably based on skull measurements (no Caspian or Bali tigers were analyzed), although she noted that there was considerable overlap of tigris and corbetti, and some overlap of corbetti and sumatrae. Tiger subspecies are now being re-evaluated using the latest techniques of molecular analysis, with samples being collected from wild tigers in the Russian Far East and India, and from captive Sumatran and South China tigers of known origin and blood-line (S. O’Brien pers. comm. 1994).

Hemmer (1987) and Mazák (1983) place the origin of the tiger in East Asia, from where two major dispersals took place approximately two million years ago. To the north-west, tigers migrated through woodlands and along river systems into South-West Asia. To the south and south-west, tigers moved through continental South-East Asia, some crossing to the Indonesian islands, and others finally reaching India. Herrington (1987) concurs that the South China tiger may be regarded as a relict population of the “stem” tiger, living in the probable area of origin of the species. It has distinctive primitive skull morphology, including a shortened cranial region and close-set, more forward facing eye sockets.

Stripe patterns differ among individual tigers and from one side of the cat’s body to the other. The stripes vary in number, as well as width and propensity to split and run to spots. The dark lines above the eyes tend to be symmetrical, but the marks on the sides of the face can be different. No two tigers have the same markings (Sunquist and Sunquist 1991). Males have a prominent ruff, which is especially marked in the Sumatran tiger.

Description and Behavior
... Continued ...

© 1996 IUCN - The World Conservation Union

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