Facts About Tigers

The tiger (Panthera tigris) is the largest living wild cat in the world. A member of the Panthera genus, tigers have dark vertical stripes against their orange fur and a white underside.

With 2022 being named as the Year of the Tiger in the Chinese Zodiac, now is a timely time to learn some facts about these large wild cats.

Tigers are Big Cats

The tiger’s size puts the wild cat in the group known as the big cats. Big cats, as the name implies, are wild cats of large stature. There are five wild cats that are considered big cats: tiger, lion, jaguar, leopard, snow leopard, cougar (also known as a mountain lion or puma), and cheetah.

Male tigers are larger than female tigers. Male tigers weigh between 90 and 300 kilograms (200 and 660 pounds) and females weigh between  65 to 167 kilograms (143 to 368 pounds).

Tigers are Nocturnal and Solitary Animals

Tigers are mostly active during the night. Tigers hunt large and medium-sized mammals. An apex predator, the physiology of the tiger is adapted to taking down animals as a solitary hunter.

Tigers mainly socialize only to breed but males in highly dense areas have been known to share prey with familiar females and their cubs.

Lifespan of the Tiger

In the wild, tigers live on average about 8 – 10 years. Tigers can live longer in captivity to about 20 to 25 years.

Tigers Can Roar but Not Purr

Tigers don’t have the ability to purr. Big cats, with the exception of the snow leopard, can roar but can’t purr.

Tigers Like Water

Unlike the domestic cat which tends to avoid touching water at all costs, the tiger loves to swim and bathe in water.

Group of Tigers

As solitary animals, tigers spend much of their lives on their own. However, there can be certain situations both in the wild and in captivity where there are groups of tigers. A group of tigers is known as a streak or an ambush.

An adult tiger stand next to a tiger cub that is sitting on the ground.
An adult and cub Sumatran tiger. Photo: Mark Sum, USGS, public domain.

Tigers are Endangered

As apex predators, tigers need large and contiguous habitat. Researchers estimate that the tiger has been restricted to less than 4 – 7% of the historical range. Many patches of habitat are highly fragmented further endangering the tiger.

As a result of shrinking habitat, the tiger is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. The IUCN estimates there are about 2,154-3,159 mature tigers in existence down from a population of about 100,000 that existed one hundred years ago.

Habitat destruction and fragmentation as well as poaching have driven the decline of tiger populations.

A Sumatran tiger looking straight ahead while standing in the shade within a zoo enclosure.
A Sumatran Tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) at the Smithsonian National Zoology Park. Photo: Joe Milmoe, US FWS via USGS, public domain.

Tigers Used to Roam All Over Asia

The tiger once roamed from Turkey to the eastern coasts of Russia. Now extinct in southwest and central Asia as well as the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali, the tiger exists on highly fragmented habitat in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Russia, and Thailand.

Most of the world’s wild tigers are in India.

Subspecies of Tigers

There are currently six living subspecies of tiger:

  • Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) – also commonly known as the Siberian tiger. Amur tigers are the largest living subspecies of tiger. Amur tigers are native to the Russian Far East and Northeast China.
  • Indian tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) – also known as the Bengal tiger. The Indian tiger is native to the Indian subcontinent and are the most numerous of the subspecies.
  • Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti) – this tiger is also known as Corbett’s Tiger, named after naturalist Jim Corbett. These tigers are native to Southeast Asia. In 2011, a survey found that only about 342 adults existed in the wild. Thailand is home to the largest population of the Indochinese tiger.
  • Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni) – this tiger is native to peninsular Malaysia. Only about 80 – 120 adult Malayan tigers are believed to be left in the wild.
  • South China tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) – As the name implies, the South China tiger is native to south China and is mainly found in the Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan, and Jiangxi provinces. It is unknown how many South China tigers exists in the wild. The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) considers the South China tiger to be functionally extinct.
  • Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) – Sumatran tigers are native only to the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. Sumatran tigers are the smallest of all the tiger subspecies.

National Animal

India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and South Korea all have tigers as the national animals.

Tiger Hybrids

Some captive tigers have been bred with lions. The resulting cub will have physical markings from both parents.

When a male lion and a tigress produce an offspring, it is called a liger. Ligers tends to be much larger than their parents.

The offspring between a lioness and a male tiger is called a tigon. Ligers tend to be the same size as their parents. Some females ligers are fertile and when mated with another lion, the offspring is called a litigon.

A liger sitting on a platform at a zoo.
Hercules the liger at the Myrtle Beach Safari program in 2017. Photo: Carole M Highsmith, public domain via the Library of Congress.

References

Goodrich, J., Lynam, A., Miquelle, D., Wibisono, H., Kawanishi, K., Pattanavibool, A., Htun, S., Tempa, T., Karki, J., Jhala, Y. & Karanth, U. 2015. Panthera tigrisThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T15955A50659951. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-2.RLTS.T15955A50659951.en. Accessed on 01 January 2022.

Ghosh S, Sinha PC, Sinha A. (2017). The litigon rediscovered.Nature India. https://go.nature.com/2P41kou.

Tiger. (n.d.). IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature. https://nc.iucnredlist.org/redlist/amazing-species/panthera-tigris/pdfs/original/panthera-tigris.pdf

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