Genus/Species: Panthera tigris
- The tiger (Panthera tigris) has lived on this planet for more than two million years.
- A century ago eight sub-species of tigers, perhaps about 100,000 individuals, roamed the face of the earth, thriving in a variety of habitats throughout Asia and parts of Europe.
- In 2008 it was estimated that only 3,800 - 5,180* of these magnificent animals were left, confined to small and isolated ranges across Asia.
Distribution & Subspecies
Today some tiger experts estimate the current population of tigers to occupy only about 7% of their historical range, and even this could be optimistic.
There is only one species of tiger in the world - Panthera tigris, but it is divided up into nine distinct, geographically separate groups called subspecies.
Of the eight subspecies of tigers originally defined three are now extinct.
A genetic study has added a ninth subspecies to the group by splitting P.t. corbetti into P.t. corbetti and P.t. jacksoni (see this article in BBC Wildlife magazine for more information) the latter specifically inhabiting the Southern Malay pennisula, which brings the current total of extant sub species to six.
The table below lists the current official estimates of tiger numbers in each country. Only for the Amur Tiger is the estimate based on hard data.
|Amur tiger in Russia (P.t. altaica)|
|Indian (Bengal) tiger (P.t. tigris)|
|N.Indochinese tiger (P.t. corbetti)|
|Malayan tiger (P.t. jacksoni)|
|South China tiger (P.t. amoyensis)|
|Sumatran tiger (P.t. sumatrae)|
|Bali tiger (P.t. balica)||Extinct:||1940s|
Caspian tiger (P.t. virgata)
|Javan tiger (P.t. sondaica)||Extinct:||1980s|
Source: 'Riding the Tiger', eds Seidensticker, Christie and Jackson, 1999
Existing tiger range states: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, North Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand & Vietnam
IUCN – Classification Endangered C2a(i)
CITES – Appendix 1
Subspecies of tigers were traditionally defined by body size, skull characters, pelage coloration, and striping patterns (Mazak 1981; Herrington 1987). It is believed that the largest tigers occur in India (Slaght et al. 2005), and the smallest are found in the Sunda Islands. In recent years molecular genetic techniques have superseded morphological as the most reliable subspecific identifier.
The largest of the felid species, the tiger is an instantly recognisable and emotive animal. Nine different subspecies are recognised, three of which became extinct in the latter part of the 20th Century; the Bali (P. t. balica), Javan (P. t. sondaica) and Caspian tigers (P. t. virgata); and one of which is a recent addition based on molecular DNA evidence. The remaining subspecies are the Amur (P. t. altaica), South China (P. t. amoyensis), Sumatran (P. t. sumatrae), Indochinese (P. t. corbetti), Malayan (P. t. jacksoni) and Indian tigers (P. t. tigris).
Tigers have a reddish-orange to yellow-ochre coat with a white belly and black markings, the pattern of which is unique. The backs of their ears are white and may be used as visual cues to other tigers as well as for communicating with their offspring. Like the other big cats, tigers are well adapted for hunting large prey and have short, heavily-muscled forelimbs and long, sharp, retractable claws. Colours can vary.
* " How Many Wild Tigers Are There? An Estimate for 2008; John Seidensticker, Brian Gratwicke & Mahendra Shrestha; In Ronald Tilson and Philip Nyhus (eds.). Tigers of the World: The Science, Politics and Conservation of Panthera tigris. Elsevier, 2010.