Living things can be organised into different groups. Species that are alike are grouped together. This is called classification.
Species: Panthera tigris (tiger)
Subspecies: P.t. altaica (Amur tiger)
P.t. amoyensis (South China tiger)
P.t. corbetti (Indo-Chinese tiger)
P.t. jacksoni (Malayan tiger)
P.t. sumatrae (Sumatran tiger)
P.t. tigris (Bengal tiger)
Once ranging widely across Asia, from Turkey in the west to the eastern coast of Russia, the past 100 years have seen tigers disappear from southwest and central Asia, from two Indonesian islands (Java and Bali) and from large areas of Southeast and Eastern Asia, collectively representing a loss in distribution of over 93% of their historic range. Tigers are currently found in thirteen Asian countries, occupying a wide variety of habitats, from freezing boreal forests to hot and humid tropical rainforests:
Amur tiger – Russian Far East and northeastern China
South China tiger – China
Indo-Chinese tiger – Myanmar, Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam
Malayan tiger – peninsular Malaysia
Sumatran tiger – Indonesia
Bengal tiger - India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar
Tigers are a forest species and their striped coats are an excellent disguise amongst trees and tall grasses. Although now found mainly in the forests of tropical Asia, tigers historically occurred more widely in drier and colder regions.
Tigers are carnivores, or meat-eaters, at the top of their ‘food chain’. They are skilled 'stalk and ambush' predators, chiefly preying upon wild pigs and deer, but also water buffalo, gaur and banteng. Without substantial populations of ungulates tigers cannot survive and breed. Their diet is supplemented by birds, fish, rodents, insects, amphibians, reptiles, primates and porcupines. A tiger needs to kill 50 large prey animals per year to fill its energetic needs, some of which can be much larger than themselves.
Tigers are extremely agile and have flexible bodies designed for running, jumping and climbing. They are well designed to hunt large prey, with short, heavily-muscled forelimbs, large retractable claws, powerful jaws and sharp scissor-like teeth. Tigers have excellent eyesight uniquely adapted to seeing in the dark, complimented by acute hearing and a good sense of smell.
Their coats are camouflaged to blend into the colours and shadows of their habitat, having a reddish-orange to yellow-ochre coat with a white belly and black markings. The different subspecies vary in their body size, coat colour and markings, with the Sumatran tiger being the smallest and darkest and the Siberian the largest and palest subspecies. Their intestines are short as they only digest meat. .
Ecology and Behaviour
Tigers are generally solitary, living and hunting alone. with adults defending their home range or territory from intruders of the same gender. In common with other big cat species, adult female territories rarely overlap, whereas male ranges typically overlap from one to several females. The size of tigers' territories varies with prey abundance - where prey is abundant home ranges are relatively small, but where prey is more thinly distributed, tiger density is much lower. Smell is the most important form of communication - tigers spray urine and rub their scent on trees and bushes, leave scratch marks on trees at the boundaries of their territories, warning others to keep away.
Unlike other species of big cats, tigers are competent swimmers and will readily enter the water. The Bengal tiger can be found lying half-submerged in streams and lakes in the mid-day heat.
Mating occurs throughout the year and the female gives birth to a litter of around two to three cubs after a 3-4 month gestation period. Cubs learn to hunt and kill from around six months of age but remain dependent on their mother for at least 15 months, after which time they will disperse to find their own territory.