The tiger, largest of all cats, is one of the most charismatic and evocative species on Earth; it is also one of the most threatened. Less than 4,000 remain in the wild, most in isolated pockets spread across increasingly fragmented forests stretching from India to south-eastern China and from the Russian Far East to Sumatra, Indonesia.
Poisoned, trapped, snared, shot, captured... Across its range, this magnificent animal is being persecuted. Today, tigers are poisoned, shot, trapped and snared, and the majority of these animals are sought to meet the demands of a continuingillegal wildlife trade- which includestraditional Chinese medicine.
Hunters, traders, and poor local residents whose main means of subsistence comes from the forest, are wiping out the tiger and the natural prey upon which it depends. While poaching for trade continues to menace the tiger's survival, perhaps the greatest long-term threats are the loss of habitat and the depletion of the tiger's natural prey. Large commercial plantations have replaced a lot of tiger habitat in several tropical range countries.
Three tiger subspecies are already extinct, and a fourth is on its way
WWF in 2005 collaborated with other organizations on the most comprehensive scientific study of tiger habitats ever done. The study finds that tigers reside in 40 percent less habitat than they were thought to a decade ago and now occupy only seven percent of their historic range.
The study also finds that conservation efforts have resulted in some populations remaining stable and even increasing, but concludes that long-term success is only achieved where there is broad landscape-level conservation and buy-in from stakeholders.
In the past century, the world has lost three of the nine tiger subspecies. The Bali, Caspian, and Javan tigers have all become extinct ... and many scientists believe the South China tiger is “functionally extinct”.
Priority areas offer the best hope for tiger conservation WWF's tiger conservation strategy and action plan -Conserving Tigers in the Wild: A WWF Framework Strategy for Action 2002-2010- identifies seven focal tiger landscapes where the chances of long-term tiger conservation are best, and four additional areas where conservation opportunities are good.
In each of the focal landscapes, WWF aims to establish and manage effective tiger conservation areas, reduce the poaching of tigers and their prey, eliminate the trade in tiger parts and products, create incentives that will encourage local communities and others to support tiger conservation, and build capacity for tiger conservation.
The tiger is the largest of the Asian big cats and can be found in a wide range of habitats, from the evergreen and monsoon forests of the Indo-Malayan realm to the mixed coniferous-deciduous woodlands of the Russian Far East and the mangrove swamps of the Sundarbans, shared by India and Bangladesh.
The characteristic stripe patterns differ from one individual to another and from one side of the cat's body to the other. In fact, there are no tigers with identical markings. Males exhibit a characteristic ruff (lengthened hairs around the neck), which is especially marked in the Sumatran tiger.
Tigers are typically solitary hunters and prey mainly on deer and wild pig. Where this prey is in abundance, such as in Chitwan National Park in Nepal, territories range from 10 to 20km² for females and 30 to 70km² for males. In Russia, where the density of prey is much lower, territories vary in size from 200 to 400km² for females and 800 to 1,000km² for males.
Tigers have dens in caves, tree hollows and dense vegetation. They are mostly nocturnal but in the northern part of its range, the Siberian subspecies may also be active during the day at winter-time. Using their sight and hearing rather than smell, the tiger stalks its prey and once it has reached close proximity, attacks from the side or rear and kills by a bite to the neck or the back of the head.
Unless they die, tigers are never replaced on their range. Although individuals do not patrol their territories, the range is visited over a period of days or weeks and it is marked with urine and feces.
Size Body length is 140-280 cm and tail length is 60 to 95 cm.
Colour The upper part of the animal ranges from reddish orange to ochre, and the under parts are whitish. The body has a series of black striations of black to dark grey colour.
Biogeographic realm Indo-Malayan, Palearctic
Range States Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia (Sumatra), Lao PDR, Myanmar, Malaysia, Nepal, North Korea (few left), Russia (Far East), Thailand, Vietnam
Why is this species important?
Four of WWF's priority regions are important for tiger conservation: Amur-Heilong, Borneo and Sumatra, Eastern Himalayas and Mekong.
The tiger is a powerful symbol of reverence among the variety of cultures that live across its range. They command respect, awe or fear from their human neighbours. Even in places where tigers have become extinct or never existed in the wild, they live in myth and legend.
As top predators, they keep populations of wild ungulates in check, thereby maintaining the balance between prey herbivores and the vegetation upon which they feed. A whole myriad of other life-forms are essential to support a healthy tiger population.
A tiger has been reported to cover up to 10 meters in a horizontal leap.
It is reported that at 11 months, juveniles are already capable of killing prey.