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< Siberian Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica)

Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)


Scientific classification 

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Suborder: Feliformia

Family: Felidae

Subfamily: Pantherinae

Genus: Panthera

Species: Panthera tigris

Subspecies: Panthera tigris tigris

 

Description

Royal Bengal Tigers are the second largest species and most common subspecies of tigers. Because of their relative high number of individuals, especially in captivity, many facts are available about them. Male animals achieve a total body-length between 270 to 310 centimeter and a weight up to 300 kilogram. The smaller female is between 240 to 270 centimeter long and only weights up to 180 kilogram. The height of the shoulder scales up to 100 centimeter.

Tigers are very powerful animals. They have a short and strong neck, broad forepaws and long claws. In order to scrape meat away from bones the tongue is covered with hard papillae.

Normally the fur has a yellow to light orange color and is drawn through with brown to dark black stripes. The belly is white. But there is also a mutant of Bengal tigers which has a white coat with black stripes. These individuals are not albinos, what can be seen on their blue eyes instead of pink ones. In wild these white colored animals are rare, but in zoos they are more common because of their popularity and breeding activities. Therefore the name “White Tiger” developed, even if it is not an own species.

Range and habitat

Predominately Bengal Tigers are endemic to India. They are also found in Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. The total population size of the subspecies is estimated to be less than 2500 animals. In the Indian subcontinent tigers live in tropical and subtropical forests, mangroves and grasslands. The size of a tiger's territory depends on its prey and gender. Female tigers have a home range size from 200 – 1000 square kilometers and the territory of males can be twice to 15 times larger. Often tigers have several dens in their home range consisting out of caves or under fallen trees. Because they wander permanently (often up to 32 kilometers per night) some tigers also share certain regions peacefully whereas some tigers defend their home ranches against others.

Diet

Every day a tiger needs approximately 8 kilogram meat. Their main prey is large mammals as antelopes, hog deer or swamp deer. A tiger is confronted with prey species that have fine-tuned all their senses to detect the approach of a predator before it gets them. They all have excellent hearing and smelling powers, which give them enough of a warning to sprint away from danger.           
It is due to this that a tiger has to very often cut short its stalk and break into a charge to bring down a fleeing prey.

Tigers prefer to hunt at night using more their hearing and sight than olfaction to discover their prey. While hunting tigers are silent and creep up on their victim staying deep on the ground and hiding in high grass. When they are close enough they achieve high speed in the small distance, throw the prey out of balance with their mass and kill them with a bite in the neck. But even with its incredible powers of stalking and tremendous burst of speed, tigers only have a success rate of below 20 percent.

After a successful hunt often not all meat is eaten at once, but it is usually dragged and covered, so that it can be revisited over several days.

Reproduction

Tigers are solitary. Only for mating they associate and sometimes males compete for a female individual. Every 9 to 10 weeks a female tiger comes to estrus and after a gestation period of around 100 days up to 6 blind and deaf cubs are born. The mother stays near to its cubs most of the time and after 1 to 2 weeks the little tigers open their eyes and ears. After 2 month the baby tigers follow their mother outside and after 6 month they take part in hunting. The young tigers stay with their mother up to an age of 18 month to 3 years in order to learn to attack and kill prey. Males do not care about their offspring. Around the age of 4 years tigers are getting mature.

Communication

Tigers communicate by scent and visual signals as well as vocalization. Scent markings are made with a secretion that is mixed with urine and sprayed on trees, grass or rocks. After discovering a scent mark a tiger often shows a special facial expression called “flehming”. The tongue hangs out of the mouth and the nose is wrinkled.

Roars, grunts and hisses serve vocalization. They express the intent of the animal and show for example dominance or submission.

Conservation Status

The number of Royal Bengal Tigers is dramatically decreased and is still declining. The breeding population is believed to be only 40% of the actual adult population. Primary reasons are habitat loss, poaching and the too small size of protected areas. On the Red List of the IUCN the Bengal Tiger is evaluated as an endangered species.

Tigers and humans

Normally tigers do not hunt humans and avoid contact to them. But indeed, some tigers have been become man-eaters. The transformation of a tiger into a man-eater begins only when some factors deprive a tiger of its ability to outwit and overpower its normal prey. These factors can be quite wide ranging from porcupine quills leading to festering wounds, to poacher's gunshots not completing their job. Moreover the loss of habitat and the intruding of humans into regions which once were devoid of people play a decisive role in the transformation of a normal tiger into a “man-eater”.

If an injured hungry tiger crosses paths with a human, this can result in the latter being killed. Thus the tiger realizes the physical weakness of man and includes him in its menu. Once a tiger loses its fear of man, it is one of the most dangerous animals in the world.

The sad part about the rare cases of man-eaters is that they have shaped to a large extent the overall image most humans have of tigers.

The alleged danger which the rare cases of man eating tigers pose to humans was and is often utilized as a pretext for hunting. Especially during the British colonial rule in India tiger hunting was a popular sport. Hunters on foot as well as sitting on a back of an elephant tried to kill these large cats.

The real reason behind poaching of tigers is profit: A tiger can sell for around $1,500, but broken into body parts which are widely used in traditional Chinese medicine, the value can soar to $50,000.

Because of their amazing coloration and their elegance tigers were always one of the most popular species in captivity. The USA and China are the countries that have the most tigers in captivity – not only in zoological gardens but also in private ownership. In the USA only 19 states have banned the private ownership of tigers. Also in Armenia tigers are being kept by private owners as “pets.   

The tiger in culture

The tiger replaces the lion as King of the Beasts in the cultures of eastern Asia, representing royalty, fearlessness and wrath. Of great importance in Chinese myth and culture, the tiger is one of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals. In Hindu mythology, the goddess Durga rides the tiger.

In Tibetan Buddhism the tiger symbolizes unconditional confidence, disciplined awareness, kindness and modesty.

The Western culture emphasized in the past in particular the tiger’s potential to be cruel, aggressive, ferocious and evil. This approach is reflected in Western literature, for example, in the “Jungle Book” by R. Kipling. In this book the animals of the Indian Jungle are terrorized by the evil tiger “Shere Khan” who several times tries to kill Mowgli, the main hero of the novel.

In many traditional Asian cultures and particular in China people believe that the tiger is a source of healing power. Almost every part of the cat is traded for large sums of money. Traditional Chinese medicine uses for example tiger bones to cure rheumatism and enhance longevity, the penis is widely believed to increase male virility, and pills made from tiger eyes purportedly calm convulsions.    

In a poll conducted by the TV program “Animal Planet” in 2004, the tiger was voted the world's favorite animal, narrowly beating the dog. More than 50,000 viewers from 73 countries voted in the poll.

Short Facts

  • If a tiger searches for prey only 1 out of 10 to 20 attacks result in a successful hunt.
  • Bengal Tigers have the longest canine teeth of any living large cat. They achieve a length from 7.5 to 10 cm.
  • Tigers are excellent swimmers and water doesn't usually act as a barrier to their movement. They can easily cross rivers as wide as 6-8 km.
  • Bengal Tigers can make a standing jump up to 4 meters.
  • Most tigers have more than 100 stripes. The stripes are like fingerprints and no two tigers have the same pattern.
  • The Bengal Tiger probably arrived in the Indian subcontinent approximately 12,000 years ago.
  • The Bengal Tiger is the national animal of Bangladesh, Nepal and India.