The largest of all cats and the only one with a striped pattern all over the body. It’s worth mentioning that these stripes form a unique pattern on each cat, so you can easily recognize a given individual. The tiger is third largest land predator as far as size is concerned. Only bears – the polar and brown one – are ahead of it. The record tiger weighed 465 kg (1025 lb).
The tiger’s fur is red, although there are white specimens in the Bengal tiger subspecies. White cats are not born among Siberian tigers, but all striped predators have a gene responsible for the colour reaction of the fur to the temperature. There are a lot more white tigers in captivity than in the wild, because they are a great attraction. However, they are not albinos, as they are not 100% white. They have darker stripes and very rarely a white tiger is born with poorly visible stripes – it is called a snow-white tiger. The white-coloured tigers are usually larger than the orange ones, but they are more vulnerable to genetic defects and have weaker immunity.
The rarest colour variation of the tiger is golden tabby, also called strawberry. This variety arises as a result of crossing white and orange tigers. These cats have a lot of golden-red and white colour, and most of them lack black colour. Sometimes they are all white with golden stripes and always have a thicker coat than other colour varieties. They are therefore very charming and look less threatening, which is of course only an apparent gentleness.
The tiger has the longest fangs of all cats – when it comes to the absolute value, they can reach up to 9 cm (4 in) long. During the winter, the colour of the tiger fur loses its intensity, helping the cat to blend in with the background. The claws of this big cat reach 10 centimetres (3,94 in). tiger eyes are golden or green, and white cats’ irises are blue. Their pupils are round and well-adapted for night vision, which allows them to hunt mainly in the dark. Thanks to these abilities, however, they have limited colour vision, it’s simply unnecessary.
The tiger’s hair has a feeling and a touch function. The whiskers are the most sensitive ones on the cat’s face, but the hair that can feel touch are distributed all over the body of the predator. Tigers have black ears and white spots on the outside. It is believed that those spots are there for kitties, to make it easier for them to follow their mom.
The tail is very important for the tiger in communication, showing the cat’s nervousness or relaxation. What’s worth mentioning is that stripes are visible also on the skin, not just on the fur. Many cats have a pattern on their faces resembling Chinese word for king. Humans can distinguish tiger from one another by unique stripes, but cats recognise each other by individual fragrance.
Tigers love to stay in the forest and spend time in the water – for refreshment. They are great swimmers and can swim up to 6 kilometres (3,73 land mile). This striped cat is able to eat 50 kg (110 lb) of meat during one meal, but on average eats a 10-kilo (22-pound) meal. When it is full, it has the habit to hide the leftovers for later, covering the prey with leaves and soil. Tiger is a lone hunter and it only couples for the mating season.
Tigers can reproduce all year round. Mostly, two kittens survive, but even 6 can be born. They begin to get used to the meat diet at the age of about 7 weeks. Little tigers are blind and dependent on their mother until they are 18 months old. After this time, they start to hunt themselves, but leave their mother at the age of 2-3 years. Small kittens are threatened by other feline or canine predators as well as snakes.
Females stay longer with their mother and after becoming self-dependent they occupy neighbouring territory. Young males travel long distances in search of their own place. One male covers the territory of several females with whom it meets during the mating season. Tigers mark the area with urine and claw marks on trees. Their roar can be heard even from three kilometres.
The tiger’s hunting tactic is unhurried, silent crawling to a distance of about 20 meters (66 ft) from the victim. After reaching such closeness, it tries to bring the animal to the ground, using its mass and biting it on the neck. It can also run at a speed of 65 kmph (40 mph) to catch escaping prey. Striped predators, despite their size, are very agile and lively. The chosen victim cannot feel safe even up on a tree. Tigers are able to pull victims down from branches, jumping up to 5 meters (16 ft) in the air. These predators can also jump horizontally up to 10 meters (33 ft). On average, every tenth attack is successful.
Their favourite victims are wild pigs, but they also hunt deer and cattle. Sometimes they hunt bears, but it is not always a safe choice, because these can maim or even kill this predator. A large prey is better for them, but they are often forced to hunt for much smaller herbivores. That makes them lose a lot of energy and eating small prey does not provide enough nutritional value.
You can tame a tiger if it is brought up from a kitten, but it will always remain dangerous to humans as it can’t be domesticated. Bengal tigers are known for their valiant character and pugnacity, as opposed to the largest subspecies – the Siberian tiger. The largest cats in the world, despite their calm character, are unmatched in battle. If a tiger attacks, it does it with the killing intention. It does not use warning signs, so it is very dangerous in breeding.
Sometimes people breed a hybrid of the lion and the tiger. They are called ligers and tigons. The first (born of male lion and female tiger) are the largest cats in the world, but they do not appear at large. This is impossible due to the different places in which both species live and different habits. A record liger (without obesity) weighed 420 kg (926 lb) and measured 3.6 m (12 ft). It is known that these big cats are gentle and sociable, and after a striped parent they inherit love for water.
The smallest of tigers is a resident of Sumatra. It has the longest fangs of all subspecies, and males – a characteristic mane. This variety also has the darkest coat of the entire striped family and the highest density of stripes.
The Bali, Javan and Caspian tigers already belong to the historical world of animals. Three subsequent subspecies may unfortunately join them soon, because they are critically endangered. It is a South China, Malayan and Sumatran tiger.
The biggest threat to the tiger is hunting for body parts. It is killed for beautiful fur, but also for healing attributes used in traditional Chinese medicine. An aphrodisiac is produced from the tiger bones, for which people are willing to pay considerable sums of money. In Asia there are farms on which large-scale tiger breeding is carried out to produce wine from their bones. People also kill tigers in retaliation, because predators without proper prey and land, kill people and farm animals.
The population of tigers is closely related to the population of wolves, in the areas where they occur together. Both species hunt the same prey, so they mutually limit their populations. The tiger can kill a single wolf without the intention of eating it, but it stands no chance with the whole pack.
The whole tiger family is threatened with extinction, and their populations invariably drop in numbers. There are many small populations completely separated from each other. Tigers live in Asia, Russia and Sumatra, but have already lost 93% of the original territory. It’s a fact that already more tigers live in captivity than at large.
Author: Małgorzata Banaszkiewicz
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