The old­est defin­i­tively iden­ti­fied tiger fos­sils date to roughly two mil­lion years ago and were found in China, which is where many sci­en­tists believe the species first evolved and then dis­sem­i­nated itself across Asia.

The tiger is the largest mem­ber of the cat fam­ily, with the Amur tiger being regarded as their largest rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Nine dif­fer­ent sub­species are recog­nised, three of which became extinct in the lat­ter part of the 20th Cen­tury; the Bali (P. t. bal­ica), Javan (P. t. sondaica) and Caspian tigers (P. t. vir­gata). The remain­ing sub­species are the Amur (P. t. altaica), South China (P. t. amoyen­sis), Suma­tran (P. t. suma­trae), Indochi­nese (P. t. cor­betti), Malayan (P. t. jack­soni) and Ben­gal tigers (P. t. tigris). The dif­fer­ent sub­species vary in their body size, coat colour and mark­ings, with the Suma­tran tiger being the small­est and dark­est, whilst the Amur tiger is the largest and palest sub­species. Mark­ings and coat colour can over­lap between sub­species and are not often used to dif­fer­en­ti­ate. Gen­er­ally how­ever, tigers have a reddish-​orange to yellow-​ochre coat with a white belly and black mark­ings, the pat­tern of which is unique. Like the other big cats, tigers are well adapted for hunt­ing large prey and have short, heavily-​muscled fore­limbs and long, sharp, retractable claws.

Tigers have a bad rep­u­ta­tion of being man-​eaters, and it must be said that tigers have taken a fero­cious toll on humans. Some schol­ars esti­mated that tigers have killed approx­i­mately a mil­lion Asians over the last four hun­dred years. The major­ity in India, but heavy losses were suf­fered in East Asia, too.

Tigers are likely to for­age opti­mally when tak­ing the largest prey that can safely be killed, often ungu­lates their own size or larger. Nev­er­the­less, Amur tigers have been reported eat­ing every­thing from eagles to seals to brown bears. In the Sikhote-​Alin area, where about 90% of Amur tigers can be found, the most pre­ferred prey are red deer and wild boar. Prob­a­bly due to cli­mate changes, Sika deer are replac­ing red deer in the coastal area of the Sikhote-​Alin. This may not be ben­e­fi­cial for the tiger population.

Tigers demon­strate a spac­ing sys­tem in which females defend ter­ri­to­ries that over­lap lit­tle with neigh­bour­ing females, and males defend ter­ri­to­ries that include one to nine tigresses. Depend­ing on prey abun­dance the home range size of tigresses vary between 440 km2 (Amur tiger, Sikhote-​Alin) to 21 km2 (Ben­gal tiger, Chit­wan National Park), which equalises the total prey bio­mass per female home range. With­out the con­straints of rear­ing cubs, home ranges can increase to ensure suf­fi­cient avail­abil­ity of prey, like male Amur tigers main­tain home ranges on aver­age in excess of 1000 km2.

In his­tor­i­cal accounts the Amur tiger descrip­tions always refer to the enor­mous size of the ani­mal. Larger than any other tiger species. This no longer seems to be the case. Sci­en­tists have spec­u­lated that this has been caused by hunt­ing. When it was still allowed, sport hunters eagerly killed the biggest Amur tigers. This, together with the decreas­ing num­ber of repro­duc­tive ani­mals, reduced the pos­si­bil­ity of ‘large gene’ trans­fer, with one result being that post­war spec­i­mens no longer seem to be much larger than Ben­gal tigers.
amur tiger

Pop­u­la­tion size & trend

Esti­mated pop­u­la­tion size:Esti­mated pop­u­la­tion size: 349415, of which circa 40% repro­duces suc­cess­fully (2005 cen­sus). There are about 1216 spec­i­mens in North­east China (2009 census)


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Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.


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