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Tigers (Panthera tigris ) are the largest living members of the family Felidae, which includes all cats. Siberian tigers (P. t. altaica ) are the largest and most massive of the eight recognized subspecies. They normally reach a weight of 660 lb (300 kg), with a record male that reached 845 lb (384 kg). Several of the subspecies have had their populations totally decimated and are probably extinct, mostly through direct human actions. The species' range, overall, has been greatly reduced in historic times. Currently, tigers are found in isolated regions of India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Southeast Asia, Manchuria, China, Korea, Russia, and Indonesia. Tigers are designated "endangered" by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and by IUCNThe World Conservation Union . They are also listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora .

Unlike their relatives, the lion and the cheetah, tigers are not found in open habitats. They tend to be solitary hunters, stalking medium- to large-sized prey (such as pigs, deer, antelope, buffalo, and gaur) in moderately dense cover of a variety of forest habitats, including tropical rain forest , moist coniferous and deciduous forests, dry forests, or man-grove swamps. Within their habitat both males and females establish home ranges that do not overlap with members of their own sex. Home ranges average 8 mi2 (21 km2) for females, but vary from 2540 mi2 (65104 km2) for males depending on prey availability and to allow for the inclusion of several females in his range. Tigers that live in areas of prime habitat raise more offspring than can establish ranges within that habitat, therefore, several are forced to the periphery to establish territories and live. This creates an important condition in that this series of peripheral individuals helps promote genetic mixing in the breeding population.

Tigers are often labeled "maneaters." Although most tigers shy away from humans, some have been provoked into attack. Others, having been encountered unexpectedly, attack people as a defense, and a very few are thought to hunt humans consciously. An estimated 60120 people fall victim to tigers each year. Tigers' typical prey includes larger mammals such as deer and buffalo, and the cats will actively search for this prey, instead of waiting in ambush. Tigers hunt alone, and, even though they are highly skilled predators, are rarely successful more than once in every 15 attempts. With a scarcity of habitat for large prey and reduced cover, many tigers will opportunistically attack domesticated livestock, thus, themselves becoming targets of humans.

Population pressures from humans, habitat loss, poaching , and overhunting have led to the extinction or probable extinction of four subspecies and large reductions in the populations of the other four subspecies of tiger. The Balinese tiger (P. t. balica ) has been extinct for several decades. The South China tiger (P. t. amoyensis ), which was the target of an extermination campaign, may be extinct in the wild. There has been only one unconfirmed report of the Caspian tiger (P. t. virgata ) in the last 30 years, thus it is probably extinct. The Javan tiger (P. t. sondiaca ) is also probably extinct, as its population was reduced to four or five individuals, and there has not been a confirmed sighting since the late 1970s. Little is known of the population levels of the Indochinese tiger (P. t. corbetti ) but the number is thought to be between 1,000 and 1,500, with 60 in captivity. The Sumatran tiger (P. t. sumatrae ) has a population in the wild of about 500 individuals. The Siberian tiger, whose population dropped to 2030 individuals in 1940, has a population today of over 500 in the wild. The Bengal tiger (P. t. tigris ) has been the target of renewed poaching efforts since mid-1990. The bones of these tigers bring a handsome price on the black market. Tiger bones are ground up, dissolved in a liquid, and used in Chinese medicine. Early estimates are that 500 or more Bengal tigers have been poached in the last three years for this purpose.

[Eugene C. Beckham ]



Grzimek, B., ed. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. Vol. 4. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990.

Nowak, R. M. Walker's Mammals of the World. 6th ed. 2 vols. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.


Angier, Natalie. "The Cat Comes Back." New York Times Upfront (January 31, 2000): 24.

Luoma, J. R. "The State of the Tiger." Audubon 89 (1987): 6163. "Man Saving Endangered Tigers." Xinhua News Agency (March 15, 2001).


The Tiger Foundation. [cited May 2002]. <http://www.tigers.ca>.