Tigers 101


     Tigers (panthera tigris) are found only in Asia, originally ranging in a vast triangle from Iran to Siberia and down to Indonesia. There has never been an indigenous wild tiger in Africa! Of the 8 original sub-species, the Caspian, Javan, and Balinese became extinct between 1940 and 1980. The Chinese tiger is now virtually extinct as well. That leaves the Siberian (Amur), Sumatran, Indo-Chinese and Bengal tiger, with the largest population, about 1,800, with a habitat that includes India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Burma to the Irrawaddy River. Only about 3,000 remain in the wild. [Recent molecular analysis has found a division in the Indo-Chinese population thereby technically creating another sub-species known as the Malayan tiger.]


     There have never been tigers in Africa but there are lions in Asia. The last remaining ones are confined to the Gir Forest in Gujarat.


     Tigers have a normal lifespan of 10-15 years.


     Tigers are not normally aggressive to humans unless startled at close quarters, a mother with cubs, chance encounters on a kill, or old and/or injured and thereby forced to hunt outside their normal prey and habitat. Those often become the ‘maneaters’.


     Female Bengal tigers (panthera tigris tigris) will average 300 pounds and males 450. There is debate over whether, on average, the Siberian tigers are bigger than the Bengal tigers. Siberian tigers have the potential for being the largest, and captive ones are larger than captive Bengals. But in the wild, the prey base in Russia is not abundant enough for those tigers to realize their full potential. Prey is more scattered and the Russian tigers need huge territories to capture sufficient food, so much more energy is expended in the food quest. And the harsh Siberian winters makes it difficult for the prey species to find food and the tigers to hunt. Several in Nepal have been recorded between 550 and 700 pounds. The largest Siberian on record is 845 pounds. The Guinness Book of Records has one tiger in India at 857 pounds, shot by a chap from Philadelphia in 1967, near what is now Corbett Tiger Reserve.


     Females become reproductive around the age of 3. The gestation period is about 105 days. Most litters are 2-4 cubs. Cubs stay with their mother for about 2 years until they have learned to hunt and survive on their own. This process is critical. No captive bred tigers have ever survived introduction into the wild. Being a solitary animal, after 2-3 years they must either displace other adult tigers or disperse to carve out their own territory. A healthy tigress can have a litter about every 2-3 years. Upon becoming pregnant again, the mother will physically force her current young to leave her alone.


     Tigers are known to walk vast distances usually between dusk an early morning. Their nocturnal meanderings are preoccupied with the search for food and patrolling their territory. Territorial markings are a form of communication with other tigers and include: piles of scat along established trails, scratch marks nearby, spraying bushes and trees with their anal gland scent, and rolling around to flatten vegetation. There is some debate about whether standing up and scratching trees is marking territory or merely removing residue on their claws from recent kills. It’s probably a bit of both. A male can have a range of 25-40 sq. miles and females about 10 sq. miles.


     Tigers communicate with each other: a long range roaring between males and females; male to male to declare territory; or short range moaning of a mother to her cubs, by a deep, loud sound best spelled AAR-ROOOM!


     Tigers have strong homing instincts. A male tiger was moved from Pench Tiger Reserve to Panna Tiger Reserve on November 14, 2009. Then, on November 25, in an instinctual act of tiger behavior, he headed home. Tracked by his radio collar, he was finally caught and tranquilized by the Forest Department on December 25th, 150 km. from Panna, crossing hills, villages, rivers, and fields, heading home to Pench.


     Tiger are normally solitary animals but will socialize from time to time and have been known to share a meal.


     Males who take over a new territory will often attempt to kill their predecessor’s young to establish dominance and strengthen their own gene pool. There is concern for genetic diversity in smaller tiger populations as males will breed with their mothers and daughters.


     Tigers will make a kill every 4-7 days, more frequently if a mother has cubs. Preferred food includes wild boar, chital (spotted deer), sambar, barking deer, hog deer, and young rhinos or gaur- the largest wild ox in the world. Tigers usually attack from behind, first getting control with their claws, then holding on with massive forearms until they can finish the kill with a bite to the neck or throat. Tigers may even attack monkeys, snakes, peacocks, and jungle fowl if hungry.


     Tigers have excellent eyesight and an even better sense of hearing.


     The presence of a tiger will be announced throughout the forest by alarm calls. Tiger prey species work together both in gathering food and warning each other of the presence of a predator. Monkeys roam high in the trees and deer forage the forest floor eating what is knocked out of the trees. Monkeys will be the first to sound the alarm of a predator by their agitated screeching. The chital and sambar have their own form of loud, sharp bleeping sounds to alert each other and the forest.


     Tigers love the water and are excellent swimmers.


     Tigers rarely climb trees but if properly motivated can reach heights of 16-18 ft. A Nepali researcher was pulled out of a tree from that height by an enraged tigress in 1978. She had been darted with a tranquilizer and fitted with a radio collar. When she awoke in a mood most foul the researcher was watching from a nearby tree. Her cubs were nearby and she wanted to make sure they were safe. Enraged, she got a running start, pulled him out of the tree, tore a good part off his upper leg, stunned him out as they landed on top of each other, then sauntered off into the forest with her cubs.


     Tigers have distinct stripe patterns on their face and sides. Camera trap photography has become the method of choice in tiger identification and census taking. Pugmark (footprints) identification is also used. Pugmarks? From an Anglo-Indian term pug, meaning footprints. Originally from the Hindi and Urdu work pag.


     There is a great deal of misunderstanding regarding white tigers. There are no sub-species of white tigers running around the wilds of Asia. White tigers are the result of a recessive mutation requiring both parents to have that gene to produce white offspring. The last known white tiger in the wild was captured in 1950 by the Maharaja of Rewa in the forests near Bandhavgarh. [The current Maharaja of Rewa still owns the land atop the plateau at Bandhavgarh]. The Maharaja named him Mohan. Mohan mated with one of his daughters and the result was white cubs. It is believed that all white tigers in captivity are descended from Mohan.