Tiger - Characteristics and Evolution - Subspecies

Subspecies

There are nine subspecies of tiger, three of which are extinct. Their historical range in Bangladesh, Siberia, Iran, Afghanistan, India, China, and southeast Asia, including three Indonesian islands is severely diminished today. The surviving subspecies, in descending order of wild population, are:

  • The Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris), also called the Indian tiger, lives in India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, and is the most common subspecies with populations estimated at less than 2,500 adult individuals. In 2011 the total population of adult tigers is estimated at 1,520–1,909 in India, 440 in Bangladesh, 155 in Nepal and 75 in Bhutan. It lives in alluvial grasslands, subtropical and tropical rainforests, scrub forests, wet and dry deciduous forests, and mangroves. Male Bengal tigers had a total length, including the tail, of 270 to 310 cm (110 to 120 in), while females range from 240 to 265 cm (94 to 104 in). The weight of males range from 175 to 260 kg (390 to 570 lb), while that of the females range from 100 to 181 kg (220 to 400 lb). In northern India and Nepal, tigers tend to be of larger size. Males often average 235 kilograms (520 lb), while females average 141 kilograms (310 lb). In 1972, Project Tiger was founded in India aiming at ensuring a viable population of tigers in the country and preserving areas of biological importance as a natural heritage for the people. But the illicit demand for bones and body parts from wild tigers for use in Traditional Chinese medicine is the reason for the unrelenting poaching pressure on tigers on the Indian subcontinent. Between 1994 and 2009, the Wildlife Protection Society of India has documented 893 cases of tigers killed in India, which is just a fraction of the actual poaching and illegal trade in tiger parts during those years. An area of special conservation interest lies in the Terai Arc Landscape in the Himalayan foothills of northern India and southern Nepal, where 11 protected areas comprising dry forest foothills and tall grass savannas harbor tigers in a 49,000 square kilometres (19,000 sq mi) landscape. The goals are to manage tigers as a single metapopulation, the dispersal of which between core refuges can help maintain genetic, demographic, and ecological integrity, and to ensure that species and habitat conservation becomes mainstreamed into the rural development agenda. In Nepal, a community-based tourism model has been developed with a strong emphasis on sharing benefits with local people and on the regeneration of degraded forests. The approach has been successful in reducing poaching, restoring habitats, and creating a local constituency for conservation.
  • The Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti), also called Corbett's tiger, is found in Cambodia, China, Laos, Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam. These tigers are smaller and darker than Bengal tigers: Males weigh from 150–190 kg (330–420 lb) while females are smaller at 110–140 kg (240–310 lb). Their preferred habitat is forests in mountainous or hilly regions. According to government estimates of national tiger populations, the subspecies numbers around a total of 350 individuals. All existing populations are at extreme risk from poaching, prey depletion as a result of poaching of primary prey species such as deer and wild pigs, habitat fragmentation and inbreeding. In Vietnam, almost three-quarters of the tigers killed provide stock for Chinese pharmacies.
  • The Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni), exclusively found in the southern part of the Malay Peninsula, was not considered a subspecies in its own right until 2004. The new classification came about after a study by Luo et al. from the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity Study, part of the National Cancer Institute of the United States. According to official government figures, the population in the wild may number around 500 individuals, but is under considerable poaching pressure. The Malayan tiger is the smallest of the mainland tiger subspecies, and the second smallest living subspecies, with males averaging about 120 kg (260 lb) and females about 100 kg (220 lb) in weight. The Malayan tiger is a national icon in Malaysia, appearing on its coat of arms and in logos of Malaysian institutions, such as Maybank.
  • The Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) is found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and is critically endangered. It is the smallest of all living tiger subspecies, with adult males weighing between 100–140 kg (220–310 lb) and females 75–110 kg (170–240 lb). Their small size is an adaptation to the thick, dense forests of the island of Sumatra where they reside, as well as the smaller-sized prey. The wild population is estimated at between 400 and 500, seen chiefly in the island's national parks. Recent genetic testing has revealed the presence of unique genetic markers, indicating that it may develop into a separate species, if it does not go extinct. This has led to suggestions that Sumatran tigers should have greater priority for conservation than any other subspecies. While habitat destruction is the main threat to existing tiger population (logging continues even in the supposedly protected national parks), 66 tigers were recorded as being shot and killed between 1998 and 2000, or nearly 20% of the total population.
  • The Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), also known as the Amur tiger, inhabits the Amur-Ussuri region of Primorsky Krai and Khabarovsk Krai in far eastern Siberia. It ranks among the biggest felids that have ever existed with a head and body length of 160–180 cm (63–71 in) for females and 190–230 cm (75–91 in) for males, plus a tail of about 60–110 cm (24–43 in) and an average weight of around 227 kg (500 lb) for males. Siberian tigers have thick coats and a paler golden hue and fewer stripes. The heaviest wild Siberian tiger weighed 384 kg (850 lb) but according to Mazák this record is not reliable. In 2005, there were 331–393 adult-subadult Siberian tigers in the region, with a breeding adult population of about 250 individuals. The population has been stable for more than a decade, but partial surveys conducted after 2005 indicate that the Russian tiger population is declining. At the turn of the century, the phylogenetic relationships of tiger subspecies was re-assessed, and a remarkable similarity between the Siberian and Caspian tiger observed indicating that the Siberian tiger population is the genetically closest living relative of the extinct Caspian tiger, and strongly implying a very recent common ancestry for the two groups.
  • The South China tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis), also known as the Amoy or Xiamen tiger, is the most critically endangered subspecies of tiger and is listed as one of the 10 most endangered animals in the world. One of the smaller tiger subspecies, the length of the South China tiger ranges from 2.2–2.6 m (87–100 in) for both males and females. Males weigh between 127 and 177 kg (280 and 390 lb) while females weigh between 100 and 118 kg (220 and 260 lb). From 1983 to 2007, no South China tigers were sighted. In 2007 a farmer spotted a tiger and handed in photographs to the authorities as proof. The photographs in question, however, were later exposed as fake, copied from a Chinese calendar and digitally altered, and the "sighting" turned into a massive scandal. In 1977, the Chinese government passed a law banning the killing of wild tigers, but this may have been too late to save the subspecies, since it is possibly already extinct in the wild. There are currently 59 known captive South China tigers, all within China, but these are known to be descended from only six animals. Thus, the genetic diversity required to maintain the subspecies may no longer exist. Currently, there are breeding efforts to reintroduce these tigers to the wild.
  • A tiger in Pilibhit Tiger Reserve.jpg

    A Bengal tiger with a cub.

  • Indochinese tiger

  • Malayan tiger

  • Sumatran tiger

  • Siberian tiger

  • Siberian tiger

  • South China tiger

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