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TIGER, Panthera tigris

Legal Status: The tiger is listed as an Endangered species by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the IUCN Red Data Book, and is an Appendix I species under CITES.  From a wild population a century ago that was estimated to have numbered about 100,000 tigers, fewer than 5,000 – 6,000 remain in the wild today.  Approximately 3,000-4,000 Indian or Bengal tigers, 400-500 Sumatran tigers, and 1,000-1,800 Indochinese tigers currently exist in the wild.  A comprehensive 1998 survey of Amur tigers recorded 350 adults and 100 juveniles living in the Russian Far East.  Officially fewer than 20 South China tigers are thought to survive; a seven-month field census in 2001 found no evidence of wild tigers in the primary tiger reserves.

Description: Tigers are the largest member of the cat family, their heavy black stripes on an orange background readily distinguishing them from other species of cats of any size..  Tigers measure seven to ten feet long nose to tail, stand three feet tall at the shoulder and weigh from 250 to over 500 pounds, depending on the subspecies.  Larger individuals in the wild have been reported but are difficult to confirm.  Captive specimens over 500 lb. are generally overweight.

Because many subspecies look very similar, most are distinguished by their ranges in the wild although there are slight physical differences among them.  Amur tigers are the largest and lightest colored subspecies in comparison to the Sumatran subspecies that is the smallest and darkest colored tiger.  Tigers in the temperate parts of Asia have much longer and thicker coats than those in the tropics.  White tigers have appeared occasionally in India; in captivity, they have also appeared in lineages not apparently related to Indian tigers.  None are currently known to exist in nature.

Range: The Amur tiger, Panthera tigris altaica, is found primarily in the Russian Far East; remnant populations remain in northeast China and possibly North Korea.  The Sumatran tiger, P. t. sumatrae, is found only on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. The Indian or Bengal tiger, P. t. tigris, the most common subspecies of tiger, is found scattered in forests throughout India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, western Myanmar (Burma) and perhaps southern China. The Indochinese tiger, P. t. corbetti, is found in Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and southern China. The South China tiger, P. t. amoyensis, is found only in south-central China.

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* map from Wild Cats: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan, compiled and edited by Kristin Nowell and Peter Jackson, (IUCN, 1996)

Habitat: Tigers live in a great range of habitats, all of which must contain sufficient prey populations, adequate cover to stalk or ambush them, and access to water.  Tigers may live in northern latitudes that contain snowy coniferous and hardwood forests, monsoon or seasonally deciduous equatorial forests, or tropical rainforests.

Diet: Tigers prey on large mammals such as elk and deer and wild boars. There are rare reports of tigers attacking bears, wolves, and even elephants and rhinos.  They occasionally kill domestic livestock and in rare instances, people.

Social Organization: Tigers are generally solitary animals, with the home range of one male overlapping that of several females. Females in estrus spray pheromone-rich urine on trees and other natural “signposts,” which alerts nearby males to their reproductive status. Through loud moaning calls, the prospective mates find each other. After a gestation of ca. 100 days, females give birth on average to two to three cubs (only one or two typically survive to maturity), and over the next two years, will teach the cubs the hunting skills needed to survive. When 14-18 months of age, the cubs disperse to establish their own home ranges.  Daughters tend to settle near their mothers; sons disperse greater distances.

confiscate.jpg (266597 bytes)Threats to Survival: Depending on where tigers live, threats are the loss of habitat and prey, fragmentation and isolation, and poaching and poisoning.  While protected by law, poaching of the tiger still occurs.  In India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia, man-eaters are still a problem and confirmed man-eaters are either captured, poisoned or shot.  Most tiger populations are small and isolated, and it is likely that many of these populations are losing genetic diversity.  Three sub-species of tiger, the Caspian tiger, P. t. virgata, Bali tiger, P. t. balica, and Javan tiger, P. t. sondiaca, are extinct, while the South China tiger is near extinction.

Zoo Programs: The North American Tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP) is organized under a single masterplan that makes management, breeding and surplus recommendations for three subspecies of tiger: Amur, Sumatran and Indochinese - and promotes a program to phase out the ageing generic or hybrid tigers through natural attrition. Two additional subspecies, the South China tiger and Bengal or Indian tiger, are not managed by the SSP.  The Amur tiger’s SSP population includes 149 tigers in North America, 46 of which are designated as surplus to the breeding population.  There are also 55 Sumatran and 37 Indochinese tigers being managed in North America.  The Felid TAG has allotted 450 spaces to tigers, and the Tiger SSP is working toward a target population size of 150 individuals for each subspecies.

White tigers are not managed by the SSP for the following reasons:

·        No white tigers in zoos and circuses worldwide can be traced back to the wild.

·        The management of Indian or Bengal tigers, the only subspecies in which white tigers have appeared in nature, is the responsibility of the Indian Zoo Association and if necessary, the European tiger conservation program (EEP).

·        The American conservation program for managing tigers (SSP) is based upon maximizing genetic diversity and as such, selective breeding for any extremely rare allele such as white coloration is not appropriate.

Three tigers have been produced in North America using techniques involving assisted reproduction, one via artificial insemination and the other two through in vitro fertilization. Assisted reproductive techniques and genome resource banks established in North America, China and Europe are being refined for future transfer of genetic material between captive regional programs and between captive and wild populations.

In 1992, an international tiger management committee and plan were formed under the umbrella of the IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group.  This plan, called the Tiger Global Conservation Strategy (Tiger GCS) integrates on a global level all regional programs for captive tigers.  Members of the Tiger SSP have assisted tiger range countries to:

·        Develop a Sumatran Tiger Regional Studbook and Masterplan for the Indonesian Zoological Parks Association (PKBSI) and train zoo staff in tiger veterinary medicine, husbandry, reproduction and data management in Indonesia.

·        Initiate an Indochinese Tiger Masterplan for the Zoological Parks Organization of Thailand (ZPO).

·        Develop a South China Tiger Regional Tiger Studbook and Masterplan for the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG) and train zoo staff in tiger veterinary medicine, husbandry, reproduction and data management.

The Tiger SSP issued an opinion on the appropriateness of the handling of tigers in public areas by AZA member zoos.  This group feels that such action places the viewing public at risk of injury or death, has no education message of value being delivered, promotes private ownership and a false sense of safe handling of exotic big cats, and causes the animal itself loses its dignity as an ambassador from the wild.  As a result, the Tiger SSP resolved that such actions were inappropriate for AZA-accredited zoos, and the AZA Accreditation Committee should make compliance of this restriction as part of its accreditation process.


Conservation: Members of the Tiger SSP are involved with the Sumatran Tiger Program, an in situ field study of wild Sumatran tigers that includes tiger ecology and conservation needs, human-tiger conflict, anti-poaching and undercover intelligence gathering, and infrastructure and management improvement of national parks.  This project began with an AZA-sponsored Sumatran Tiger Population and Habitat Viability Analysis (PHVA) workshop and eventual publication of the Indonesian Sumatran Tiger Conservation Strategy by the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry.  

Another on-going conservation project involving Amur tigers is being directed by the Hornocker Wildlife Institute –Wildlife Conservation Society (HWI-WCS) and Tigris Foundation.  Areas of both organizations’ current activity include detailed population censusing of wild tigers, support of increased law enforcement and development of better legislative protection.  Similar activities are also underway in other range countries. 

In 2001, the Tiger SSP assisted the State Forestry Administration of China in training, equipping and assisting Chinese field biologists to census what remains of wild South China tigers.  

Education: Education is a key component of tiger conservation programs.  Members of the Tiger SSP are involved with daily operations of the Tiger Information Center web site (http://www.5tigers.org), development of the AZA tiger traveling exhibit sponsored by the Save the Tiger Fund, and the conservation education program of the Sumatran Tiger Project in Indonesia.




     International Tiger Studbook Keeper    In situ Conservation

     Peter Mueller                                             Dr. Dale Miquelle

     Zoologischer Garten Leipzig                      Hornocker Wildlife Research Institute

     Pfaffendorfer Strasse 29                             2023 Stadium Dr., Suite 1A

     7010 Leipzig, GERMANY                         Bozeman, MT 59715

     E-mail: zoo@leipzig-omline.de                   Tel: (406) 522-9333

                                                                        Fax: (406) 522-9377

                                                                        E-mail: dalemiq@online.marine.su


     Amur Tiger SSP Coordinator                  Sumatran Tiger SSP Coordinator

                                                                       Gerald Brady

     Dr. Ron Tilson                                             Potter Park Zoological Garden

     Minnesota Zoological Park                          1301 South Pennsylvania Ave.

     13000 Zoo Blvd.                                          Lansing, MI 48912

     Apple Valley, MN 55124                             Tel: (517) 483-4221

     Tel: (952) 431-9267                                     Fax: (517) 483-6065

     Fax: (952) 431-9452                                    E-mail: tiger@voyager.net

     E-mail: tilson@5tigers.org                             


     Indochinese Tiger SSP Coordinator

     Mike Dulaney

     Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

     3400 Vine St.

     Cincinnati, OH 45220

     Tel: (513) 475-6156

     Fax: (513) 475-6177

     E-mail: mike.dulaney@cincinnatizoo.org


     Amur, Sumatran and Indochinese Tiger

     Regional Studbook Keeper/SPMAG Advisor

     Kathy Traylor-Holzer

     Minnesota Zoological Garden

     13000 Zoo Blvd.

     Apple Valley, MN  55124

     Tel.: (952) 431-9294

     Fax: (952) 41-9427

     E-mail: kathy.holzer@state.mn.us

tiger in snow