Classification and Range
Tigers belong to the family Felidae, which includes 36 species of cats. Tigers are classified under the genus Panthera, which includes four species of "big cats", the tiger, lion, jaguar and leopard. There are five subspecies of tiger: Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae), Bengal (or Indian) tiger (Panthera tigris tigris), Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti), Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) and the Chinese tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis). Sumatran tigers are found on the island of Sumatra. The other four subspecies of tiger range from southern Russia, Manchuria and China, to Nepal, India and the Malay and Indochinese Peninsulas.
Tigers live in a variety of habitats ranging from tropical rain forests, mangrove swamps, grasslands and savannas, to evergreen forests rising to the snow line in mountainous areas. They prefer areas close to water with thick vegetation for cover.
Head and Tail Length
Adult length: 5-12 feet (1.5-3.7 m). Sumatran tigers are the world’s smallest subspecies of tiger and reach a maximum of about 9 feet (2.7 m)
Adult weight: 143-670 pounds (65-305 kg). The largest tiger on record was a Siberian tiger that weighed 845 pounds (384 kg). Sumatran tigers range from 165-250 pounds (75-114 kg)
Wild life span is 15 years; about 18-20 years in zoos
In the wild: Almost anything that moves. In general, however, their favorite prey are medium sized deer and wild boar. At the zoo: Beef, mutton, chicken, rabbit, beef knuckle bones and commercially prepared feline diet. For treats they are fed trout, chicks and turkey. .
Female tigers sexually mature at about 3 to 4 years of age; males about 4 to 5 years. Mating may occur any time during the year, but most frequently takes place from November to April. Females enter estrus every three to nine weeks and are receptive for three to six days. The gestation period lasts about 95-110 days. Female tigers give birth in a secluded den to two to three cubs, but litters may range from one to six cubs. The female rears the cubs alone.
Tiger cubs are born with their eyes closed and weigh about 2 pounds (.9 kg). After a week or two, the cub's eyes open and its first teeth begin to grow. Young nurse for three to six months, and begin to follow their mother on hunts at 5 to 6 months of age. Cubs will not hunt alone, however, until they are 18-30 months old. Young tigers leave their mother at about the same age to look for their own territory and to mate.
Built to Kill
Tigers are built to kill large prey. Their hindlimbs are longer than their forelimbs, enabling the tiger to jump long distances. Tigers have heavily muscled forelimbs and shoulders, and paws equipped with long, retractable claws, which enable them to grab prey and drag it to the ground. A killing bite is delivered with powerful jaws and long canines. Tigers are mostly solitary animals, except during mating and when females are with cubs. These large felines establish and secure their territories by marking boundaries with urine and feces. Once a territory is established, it will remain with that tiger until its death. There is little overlap of territorial boundaries between adults of the same sex. However, a male's territory may overlap the territories of several females. Tigers can be tolerant of other tigers. Examples are several tigers gathering together to consume a particularly large kill, a mother with her young and a male and female staying together while mating. Tigers communicate to one another by rubbing heads, roaring, purring and grunting. Avoidance, however, appears to be the rule rather than the exception. A habitat of dense vegetation, with scattered prey living alone or in small groups, favors a predator that hunts alone.
On the Prowl
Tigers depend less on smell and more on keen eyesight and acute hearing to ambush and capture prey. Unlike lions that hunt in prides in open country, the solitary tiger prefers to hunt in the cover of dense foliage. When within striking distance, the tiger charges and grabs its prey. Large prey are bitten in the throat and usually die from suffocation. Smaller animals are killed with a swift bite to the back of the neck. The carcass is then dragged to a secluded area where it is consumed. A tiger can consume up to 85 pounds (40 kg) of meat at one time.
Location at the Zoo
Woodland Park Zoo's Sumatran tigers are located at the tiger grotto along the Trail of Adaptations near the North Meadow. As you gaze upon these magnificent animals, you will see two features that differentiate Sumatran tigers from other tiger subspecies: the Sumatran's stripes are the closest together and they have the longest cheek hair.
All species of tigers are endangered. Of the eight tiger subspecies that once existed, only five remain (Bali, Javan and Caspian tigers have become extinct in the last 40 years). The primary reason for the decimation of wild tiger populations is human overpopulation and other activities that result in the destruction and fragmentation of habitat. The demand for tiger bones and other body parts used in traditional Asian medicines increasingly contributes to the tiger's decline. It is estimated that only 6,000-8,000 tigers exist in the wild, with only 300-400 Sumatran tigers remaining. The future existence of tigers in the wild is in jeopardy. Woodland Park Zoo participates in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Sumatran tigers across North America. This plan tracks each animal's genetic diversity. As of 2004, our male and female adult pair have successfully bred and produced two litters of cubs. Born in December 2002, the first litter comprised two females. Born in September 2004, the second litter comprised two males.
How You Can Help!
The effort to save endangered species requires cooperation and support at the international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. Please do not buy products made from wild animal parts. Contact Woodland Park Zoo at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out about ways you can support conservation programs at the zoo. Discover more about endangered tigers by calling The Tiger Information Center at 1-800-5TIGERS or at their Web site http://www.5tigers.org. Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and the habitats they require for survival by visiting our How You Can Help page.
Sources and Suggested Reading
Jackson, Peter. 1990. The Endangered Species: Tigers. Chartwell Books, Edison, NJ. 127 p.
Seidensticker, John. 1996. Tigers. Voyageur Press, Inc., Stillwater, MN. 72 p.
Resnick, Jane P. 1994. Cats. Kidsbooks, Inc., Chicago, IL. 29 p.