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):
Caspian tiger P.t. virgata (Illiger, 1815)
Amur tiger P.t. altaica (Temminck, 1844)
Javan tiger P.t. sondaica (Temminck, 1844)
South China tiger P.t. amoyensis (Hilzheimer, 1905)
Bali tiger P.t. balica (Schwarz, 1912)
Sumatran tiger P.t. sumatrae Pocock, 1929
Indo-Chinese tiger P.t. corbetti Mazák, 1968
Size variation in tiger subspecies (adult specimens)
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.
© 1996 IUCN - The World Conservation Union