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Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)

Bengal tiger ( Panthera tigris tigris )

Order : Predators (Carnivora)
Subordination : Feline (Feliformia)
Family : Cats (Felidae)
Subfamily : Big cats (pantherinae)
Genre : Real big cats ( Panthera )
Type : tiger
Scientific name
Panthera tigris
( Linnaeus , 1758)

The tiger ( Panthera tigris ) is a large cat widespread in Asia . It is unmistakable due to its size and the characteristic dark stripe pattern on a golden yellow to reddish brown background. There are eight to nine subspecies, which are differentiated as mainland subspecies and island subspecies. The biggest differences exist between the small, high-contrast Sumatra tigers and the large, rather pale Siberian tigers , also known as Amur tigers . Sumatran tigers reach an average head-trunk length of around 140 cm, a tail length of around 60 cm and a weight of around 120 kg (males) and 90 kg (females). Male Siberian tigers, on the other hand, reach a head-trunk length of up to 200 cm, have a tail around 90 cm long and weigh around 250 kg. However, with a body weight of around 150 kg, female Siberian tigers are significantly smaller than the males. This makes this subspecies the third largest land-dwelling predator after the polar bear and brown bear . The Indian Bengal tiger and the Indochinese tiger can be regarded as typical subspecies that appear between these extremes . Originally, the now extinct Balitiger was the smallest subspecies.

Tigers are usually solitary and feed primarily on larger ungulates. They inhabit a wide variety of habitats, such as tropical rainforests, grasslands, swamp areas or boreal forests . Originally, the tiger was spread from the Caucasus and the Far East of Russia via East China , the Indian subcontinent and rear India to Sumatra , Java and Bali . Today it has disappeared from large parts of its former range and three subspecies are already extinct. It is estimated that there are still 3,000 to 5,000 tigers living in the wild, most of which are now confined to isolated protected areas. The species is on the IUCN as "critically endangered" (Endangered) classified.


Color and coat

Amur tiger
Sumatran tiger
Female Amur tiger in summer fur

The tiger is not to be confused with any other big cat because of its striking stripes. Like the fur color of leopards and jaguars ( rosettes ) or lions (sand-colored fur), the stripes of the tiger in combination with the basic color of the fur serve as camouflage . Compared to the regular stripes of a zebra , the irregular and partly openwork stripes of the tiger are an optimal adaptation to the background of its habitat. The special coloring makes it possible to hide in the vegetation or on the ground. For example, the black stripes on the golden-yellow or red-orange basic fur color in the bamboo thicket appear like shadows in the sunlight, and in arid grasslands the tiger merges with the blades of grass and smaller bushes. In the overall perception, the big cat almost “blurs” into its surroundings, and the tiger remains undetected for its prey for a long time. In winter, the Siberian tiger can only be seen on tree-free, snow-covered areas, whereas the forest in turn gives it a perfect camouflage, as many trees and bushes in the taiga do not shed the dry leaves that have been colored by autumn.

“The coloring offers the tiger complete protection. When it moves in the taiga between the bushes and the dry leaves, the black, yellow and white colors flow into one another and the animal takes on a monotonous brown-gray color. Especially in autumn, between the orange and red colored vine leaves and the dry yellow fronds of the ferns, which are interspersed with many blackish stems, the tiger can hardly be seen even at close range. "

The base color of the upper side varies between golden yellow and red orange, depending on the subspecies. The underside, as well as parts of the face and the insides of the legs, are white or light beige. The back of the ears is black and has a clearly noticeable white marking. Conspicuous dark horizontal stripes extend from the head over the entire trunk to the tip of the tail. This makes the tail appear curled. The legs are striped in a similar way, although the front legs often show a significant reduction in stripes. The different subspecies of the tiger differ in the form of the fur color, sometimes considerably. The tigers of the Siberian subspecies are usually the brightest in color. However, many Bengal tigers from north or central India are almost as light in color. The tigers of Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula are usually the darkest and most vividly colored . The South Chinese and Caspian tigers are or were apparently intermediaries in the coloring . The tigers of the northern populations also differ in a larger proportion of the white areas. Tigers from the south of the distribution area usually have many very dark and often quite wide stripes, which often disintegrate into groups of spots at their ends. Such spots are less common in northern tigers. The Caspian tigers from the Middle East , on the other hand, usually had relatively narrow, thin stripes. Bengal tigers, which can sometimes be quite light, differ from ancient Siberian tigers in that their flank stripes are intensely black, while in the northern form they are usually gray or brown. However, these geographical differences are offset by a high degree of variability within the populations. The tiger's nose is generally pink, but with increasing age it shows more black spots.

Head of a Bengal tiger

The fur is relatively short in most forms, but thick and long-haired in the Siberian tigers because of the cold climate. The length of the hair of a Bengal tiger is around 8 to 15 mm in summer, with the hair on the belly being 20 to 30 mm longer. In contrast, a Siberian tiger's hair measures 15 to 17 mm on the back and 25 to 45 mm on the belly in summer. The back hair of the Bengal tiger is 17 to 25 mm long in winter, the belly hair 25 to 40 mm. The hair of the Siberian tiger reaches a length of 25 to 40 mm on the back and 70 to 105 mm on the belly during the cold season. The body hair of the Sumatra tiger is only about 10 to 15 mm long. However, the long mane of the neck and the pronounced whiskers in the males of this subspecies are striking.

At least in zoological gardens, all subspecies develop a winter coat made of top coat and undercoat , with hair length and density varying between the subspecies and the climatic conditions. The summer fur is significantly shorter and less dense, especially in the Siberian subspecies. The hair density of around 1800 hairs per square centimeter in Bengal tigers and 3200 in Siberian tigers in winter is comparable to that of leopards, with lynxes having significantly higher hair densities of up to 9,000 per square centimeter. In spring, the long winter coat is replaced by a short summer coat. The impression of a second change of hair in northern tigers in autumn can be explained by the fact that the summer coat grows longer in autumn. It is not entirely clear whether tigers in India also change their hair. The claws are also changed regularly. They first peel off in layers and then fall off. During this time, the tiger often scratches soft tree bark.

Color variations

White Tiger
Tiger with missing stripe pigment

As with most vertebrates, there are different color variants, the peculiarities of which are less relevant from a biological than from a cultural-historical point of view, as they were bred as treasures by local rulers and are still considered attractions in shows (for example at Siegfried and Roy ). White tigers are particularly well known. These animals are not real albinos , but "partial albinos" ( leucism ), because they lack the red eyes of an albino, instead the eyes are usually blue. Most of these white tigers have dark stripes; white tigers without stripes are less common. All of the white tigers known today can be traced back to a male that was caught in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh in 1951 . Since then, no white tigers have been observed in the wild. Another color variant, which is also very rare in the wild, is the so-called Rötling (Rufino), in which the black pigment of the stripes is missing. Such an animal is described from the Elbursgebirge , another from Assam . Such colored animals later appeared in the offspring of tigers in captivity and are also known as "golden tigers". They have a pale yellow basic color with light brown stripes. Tigers of this color variant are bred like white tigers, especially in amusement parks and by showmen. The varieties of color that live in captivity today are mainly due to Bengal tigers. Siberian tigers were sometimes crossed, which is why the often propagated “breeding successes” do not contribute to the protection of these subspecies.

In addition to white and gold tigers, there are reports of almost black or blue-gray specimens. There are also other individual features in the fur pattern of individual tigers. Some tigers tend to have a strong reduction in stripes, especially in the area of ​​the front body area.


Large male tigers of the Siberian or Indian subspecies usually reach a head body length of a maximum of 2 m. There is also a tail of at least 90 cm. The total length is thus around 3 m. Females of the Bengal tiger are a little over 250 cm long with tail, females of the Amur tiger are around 260 cm long, with around 165 to 178 cm being the length of the head. Sumatra tigers, which represent the smallest living subspecies, reach a total length of 240 to 250 cm (males) and 215 to 230 cm (females). The head-trunk length is 155 to 170 cm (males) or 145 to 155 cm (females). The smallest form of the tiger, the extinct Balitiger , should have reached a total length of about 220 to 225 cm in males and a total length of about 190 to 200 cm in females.

The height at the withers of Siberian tiger males is about 97 to 105 cm when standing. Males of the Bengal tiger and the Indochina tiger are somewhat smaller with about 90 to 100 cm withers. Males of the Sumatra tiger, on the other hand, only measure around 75 to 79 cm, those of the Chinese tiger around 82 to 86 cm. Female Amur, Bengal, and Indochinatigers reach heights of approx. 78 to 87 cm. Female Sumatra tigers reach a height at the withers of only 66 to 68 cm.

Sometimes maximum head-to-torso lengths of 290 cm or total lengths of almost 4 m are given for tigers. However, these extreme figures are likely to be based largely on exaggerations, estimates or measurements in which the length of the animal was determined over curves , i.e. measured over all body curves . In addition, skins can be extremely stretched, which can lead to very high values ​​when measured. The longest known Caspian tiger is a male that was shot in 1939 on the Ili River and measured at a straight distance from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail ( between pegs ) was 295 cm long. The length of the head and trunk was 197 cm and the tail was 98 cm. One of the largest credibly recorded total lengths between pegs for a Bengal tiger is 312.5 cm. The average total length of large male Indian tigers is around 280 cm. A huge male Siberian tiger, who came from the Sichote-Alin area and died in Duisburg Zoo in 1965, measured 319 cm between pegs , 99 cm of which was on the tail. The largest credibly transmitted value for the total length of a Siberian tiger is 350 cm over curves , which results in a real total length over pegs of around 330 to 335 cm. The animal was shot in northeast China in 1943.

With an average total length of around 260 to 270 cm and rarely more than 285 cm, male lions generally lag behind the large subspecies of the tiger. This makes the tiger the largest cat species in the world. The largest credibly traditional length measurements for lions are around 305 to 310 cm total length between pegs , measured on an animal from the area north of Lake Victoria . This is also slightly below the values ​​for the largest known Siberian tigers.

body weight

Adult males of the Sumatran tiger weigh around 100 to 140 kg, the females between 75 and 110 kg. Male Bengal tigers in Nepal weigh around 200 to 240 kg, females around 125 to 160 kg. According to Vratislav Mazák, the highest, credibly transmitted value for the weight of a Bengal tiger is 258 kg. The animal was shot in the Terai in India. Another large male of this subspecies weighed 256 kg. According to Mazák, the average weight of Indian male tigers should fluctuate around 190 kg. The highest credible value for a Caspian tiger is 240 kg and was determined for an animal killed on the Ili River. The highest value for a Siberian tiger is 306.5 kg, which is the highest credibly documented value of a tiger at all. It was a male named Circa who was caught as a young animal in the Ussuri region and died in a menagerie at the age of ten . Information about Siberian tigers with a body weight of well over 300 kg cannot be verified. Mazák gives the average value for the body weight of adult Siberian tigers around 230 kg. The extinct Balitiger probably only reached a body weight of 90 to 100 kg (males) or 65 to 80 kg (females). Javan tigers were slightly larger with a body weight of around 130 to 135 kg (males) and around 100 kg (females).

Skull and teeth

Mouth of a young Siberian tiger

Like other big cats, the tiger has a round pupil. The iris is usually yellow. As with other large cats, the massive skull of the tiger is also more elongated than that of small cats. It is similar in size to that of the lion and can hardly be distinguished from a lion's skull. There are minor differences in the structure of the nasal bone , as well as in the structure of the lower jaw. In the tiger this is rather concave on the underside, while that of the lion is more convexly curved. The skull length in large male tigers is on average 350 to 360 mm. The skull lengths of larger female tigers are around 290 to 310 mm, with Sumatra tigers only having skull lengths of 295 to 340 mm (males) and 263 to 293 mm (females). The skull length of adult male Balitigers was only approx. 295 mm, that of the females approx. 265. The brain of the tiger holds approx. 250 to 300 cm³.

The permanent dentition contains 30 teeth, whereby the tooth formula corresponds to that of other recent cats:

The first upper molar (molar) is very small or often missing completely. The same applies to the first upper premolar . Most noticeable are the canines , which protrude up to 70 mm from the gums in the upper jaw. The lower canines are a little shorter. The fangs are provided by the fourth upper premolar and the first lower molar and are each 34 to 38 mm and 26 to 29 mm long in adult tigers.

Skeleton and internal organs

Drawing of a tiger skeleton

The skeleton is a typical cat skeleton and can hardly be distinguished from that of a lion. Slight differences can only be seen in the humerus (upper arm bone). The tiger has a retractable, sickle-shaped claw on each toe of the front paw. These can reach 80 to 100 mm on the outside and are hidden in skin sheaths when at rest. The four visible toes on the rear foot are also provided with retractable claws. The tiger's spine consists of 55 to 56 vertebrae, the rib cage of 13 pairs of ribs. A tiger heart weighs around 600 to 1100 g, the intestine measures around 7 m. Amur tigers usually put on a thick layer of fat in winter, the thickness of which is about 5 cm on the flanks.

Chromosome set

The tiger's chromosome set, like other Old World cats, consists of 18 pairs of autosomes and two sex chromosomes, making a diploid set of 38 chromosomes.


The tiger's stride length varies between 70 cm for males and 60 cm for females. The size of the paw prints strongly depends on the surface. The front paws of a very large male tiger leave an imprint about 14 to 17 cm long and 13 to 16 cm wide in damp clay. The step seals of female tigers measure 12 to 14 cm in length and 11 to 13 cm in width under these conditions. In the snow, especially in fresh snow, the tracks can be significantly larger.


Amur tiger
South China tiger
Bengal tiger
Indochinese tiger
Sumatran tiger
Jelly tiger
Caspian tiger

There are currently up to nine subspecies, three of which are already extinct. The subspecies status of P. t. jacksoni on the Malay Peninsula is controversial; in the following list it is listed as an independent subspecies. Genetic analyzes speak in favor of dividing the still living forms into six different subspecies according to the scheme shown here. The subspecies of the Asian mainland seem to differ relatively little from one another, while there are relatively large genetic differences to the tigers of the island of Sumatra. The tigers on the island of Sumatra were believed to have been separated from those on the mainland 6,000 to 12,000 years ago when sea levels rose at the end of the last glacial period and the former land bridge sank. In particular, the differences between the extinct Caspian tiger and the Amur tiger are so small that both should possibly be combined into a subspecies.

Since 2015, after the examination of more than 200 skulls by an international team of researchers, it has been discussed whether a division into two subspecies should be made, since only the Sunda tiger ( Panthera tigris sondaica ) from the Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali and the Mainland tigers ( Panthera tigris tigris ) could be clearly distinguished genetically.

Mainland tiger

  • Siberian tiger , Amur or Ussurite tiger ( P. t. Altaica ); the largest subspecies of the tiger was once widespread across eastern Siberia , Manchuria and Korea . The fur is relatively light and particularly long and dense. Through massive re-enactment, the population has meanwhile been reduced to around 30 animals in the Sino-Russian and Sino-Korean border areas; this population has now grown again to around 350 to 400 individuals, but is still very much endangered.
  • South China tiger ( P. t. Amoyensis ); medium-sized subspecies, slightly smaller than Bengal or Indochinatiger, the color is more intense, the white portion smaller. The stripes are usually very dark and relatively far apart. Once distributed in large parts of China from latitude 38 to 40 ° north south to the northern border areas of Yunnan , Guangxi and Guangdong . Today a few, if any, specimens still live in the mountains of Guangdong. These possible remnants are unlikely to have realistic chances of survival, even if protective measures take effect, since such a small population is hardly capable of surviving (see inbreeding depression ). The population in zoos and thus a breeding program were built up late and are almost exclusively limited to Chinese zoos. The zoo population increased from 57 to 72 animals between 2005 and 2007. Resettlements with zoo-born animals are planned. The Save Chinas Tigers Foundation endeavors to breed and get used to hunting South Chinese tigers outside of China in a reserve in South Africa so that they can later be reintroduced into their original habitat.
  • Bengal, Indian tiger or Königstiger ( P. t tigris. ); the second largest subspecies. Overall coat color is relatively variable, but mostly darker than that of the Amur tiger and lighter than that of the south-eastern subspecies. The stripes are usually very dark. Originally distributed from the industrial lowlands in Pakistan via the Indian subcontinent to Bengal, Assam and the north-western parts of Myanmar. There are certain genetic differences within the subspecies, in particular the tigers of the north differ from other Bengal tigers. The Bengal tigers at the western end of the subspecies area also show moderate genetic characteristics. Above all, the animals of Sariska National Park , where tigers were exterminated in 2004, were genetically very similar to those from neighboring Ranthambhore National Park . This makes the tigers from Ranthambore the best candidates for possible future reintroduction in Sariska. Today the Bengal tiger can still be found in isolated remnants in India , Bangladesh , parts of Bhutan and Nepal and in western Myanmar . Today it is assumed that there are fewer than 2500 Bengal tigers living in the wild, of which by far the largest part, around 1400 (as of 2008), live in India. The significantly higher population numbers of the censuses from 2001 to 2002 cannot be compared directly due to the different methods. However, the more recent results are considered more reliable. The Bengal tiger is considered threatened, but is less endangered than the other subspecies; Conservationists have repeatedly warned of the impending extinction of the Indian tiger in India and neighboring countries. Despite an international ban, criminal organizations are busy trading tiger skins.
  • Indochinese tiger , Indochina tiger, also rear Indian tiger or Corbett tiger ( P. t. Corbetti ); somewhat smaller than the Bengal tiger, basic color somewhat darker, the mostly very dark stripes often merge into spots. The subspecies is common on the mainland of Southeast Asia, where it occurs from the Chinese provinces of Yunnan, Guangxi and Guangdong as well as northern Myanmar southwards to the Malacca peninsula. There are probably only 350 specimens left that have survived in Cambodia , Thailand , Myanmar , Laos and, in small numbers, in Vietnam . The population of the Malay Peninsula may represent a subspecies of its own and is listed separately as the Malay Tiger.
  • Malay Tiger , Malaysian Tiger, or Jackson Tiger ( P. t. Jacksoni ); widespread in the Malay Peninsula and also severely threatened; the independence of this subspecies, which was previously considered to be the Indochinese tiger, is still controversial. There are genetic differences between the populations of the Malay Peninsula and the more northerly populations, but there appear to be no differences in coat pattern or skull structure. The stocks also flow northwards into those of the Indochinatiger. According to the latest IUCN information, around 250 specimens are native to the Malay Peninsula.
  • Caspian tiger , Persian tiger or Turantiger ( P. t. Virgata ); an extinct subspecies, which stood out from the Amur tiger mainly because of the mostly many narrow stripes. The stripes were usually quite light, the fur relatively long. Originally widespread from Anatolia via Iran and Central Asia to Mongolia . The Caspian tiger was exterminated in large parts of this area at an early stage; it is now extinct both in the wild and in captivity; the last remained in Southwest Asia until the early 1970s. Recent molecular biological studies indicate that the subspecies is identical to the Siberian tiger and that the range of the two populations may only have been separated by humans.

Sunda tiger

  • Sumatran Tiger ( P. t. Sumatrae ); relatively small, contrastingly colored subspecies, the stripes often disintegrate into spots. At the same time the smallest of the surviving subspecies. The long whiskers of the males are striking. The Sumatra tiger was the only island subspecies that could survive to this day; there are still 400 individuals in remote areas of Sumatra . The IUCN lists the subspecies as "critically endangered".
  • Javan tiger ( P. t. Sondaica ); even smaller than the Sumatra tiger and similarly dark in color. Stripes very narrow and numerous. Once distributed on Java , the most densely populated island in Indonesia , this subspecies was last detected in the 1970s and is considered extinct.
  • Balitiger ( P. t. Balica ); the smallest subspecies. Even darker in color than Sumatra tigers and most Java tigers. Striped pattern rather broad and more similar to that of the Sumatra tiger than that of the Java tiger. Often lines of dark spots between the stripes. Originally endemic to Bali , the subspecies was wiped out by excessive hunting and habitat destruction in the 1940s.

Tribal history

The tiger is undoubtedly a real big cat , which defines the closer relationship. Due to the sparse fossil record, however, the exact reconstruction of the tribal history of the tiger within the genus Panthera proves to be relatively difficult.

The genus Panthera may have originated in Asia, but the exact origins are in the dark. Morphological and genetic studies suggest that the tiger is the basic sister group to the other living Panthera species (jaguar, lion, leopard and snow leopard). The oldest finds of a tiger-like big cat come from China and are known as Panthera palaeosinensis . This early species of cat lived at the beginning of the Pleistocene (about 2 million years ago) and was smaller than today's tiger. Early real tiger fossils come from Java and are between 1.6 and 1.8 million years old. Numerous tigers from China, Sumatra and Java are known from the early and middle Pleistocene. In India, the Altai, northern Russia and other areas of Asia, however, the big cat did not appear in the fossil record until the late Pleistocene. The tiger has also been found in fossils from eastern Beringia (but not from the American continent) and on the island of Sakhalin . These tigers do not seem to have quite reached the size of today's Siberian tigers. The fossil tiger finds in Java are on average slightly smaller than those on the mainland, although very large specimens are also known, which correspond to today's Bengal tigers. It is possible that two Pleistocene subspecies, Panthera tigris acutidens from the mainland and Panthera tigris trinilensis from Java, can be distinguished. Small tiger forms are also known from the late Pleistocene of Japan. Up until the Holocene , tigers were also found on Borneo , where the species is now extinct.

The origin of the tiger is likely to be in Southeast Asia. According to genetic analyzes, the Indochinatiger is the most original subspecies. It is closest to those tigers from which the other forms developed around 70,000 to 100,000 years ago. From there, the tiger continued to move further south, north and west. He seems to have reached the Kaspi area only in the Holocene. The tiger still lived on the island of Borneo in the Pleistocene and Holocene , and recently the cat was also detected from the island of Palawan through Pleistocene fossils. It is conceivable that it disappeared on this island in the Holocene, when the deer population collapsed around 5000 years ago, probably due to hunting pressure from humans.

For a long time it was assumed that the tiger never appeared in Sri Lanka . However, recent finds indicate that the tiger reached the island of Sri Lanka over 20,000 years ago. The lion ( Panthera leo sinhaleyus ) lived there until 37,000 years ago . During the last maximum glaciation around 20,000 years ago, when the land bridge to Sri Lanka dried up, the tiger was apparently able to reach the island. Today, however, neither lions nor tigers live in Sri Lanka.


Hybrids between tigers and other cat species

In the course of history, tigers, tigers and other big cats have hybridized again and again in menageries , zoos and circuses, sometimes by chance, but sometimes deliberately . The most common were and are crossbreeds between lions and tigers. What the offspring of such a cross looks like depends not least on the combination of parents. If a female tiger and a male lion have offspring, so-called ligers are created ; if the father is a tiger and the mother a lioness, the offspring are called Tigon or Töwe. The hybrids between tigers and lions are very variable in color and in general physique. The basic color, the stripe or speckled pattern and the expression of the mane show an intermediate expression, whereby elements of both parent species are combined.

Ligers have a light basic color, which is similar to that of lions, but also have light stripes that are partially broken up in spots. Tigons are evidently more like lions than ligers. Male tigons also usually have a mane, which, however, remains smaller than that of typical zoo lions. Male ligers also sometimes develop a light mane. The hybrids are usually quite large, sometimes even larger than both parent species. This is attributed to a heterosis effect . Male hybrids are usually sterile, but this only applies to a limited extent to females. For example, in 1943 a female lion was successfully paired with a lion.

There are also reports of tiger-leopard hybrids. However, these are not confirmed, only one case of a mating between tiger and leopard is known. However, the young died at an early stage of embryonic development.

Intraspecies hybrids

Tigers of the various subspecies were also mated repeatedly in captivity. According to a study published in Current Biology in 2008 , however, 49 out of 105 tigers from five subspecies that were tested on a trial basis were found to belong to exactly one subspecies on the basis of DNA analyzes, i.e. not as hybrids. From this, the researchers derived good chances of the pure subspecies being preserved, at least in captivity, if their survival in the protected areas should prove impossible.

Distribution area

The current range of the tiger extends from India eastwards to China and Southeast Asia and northwards to over the Amur and into eastern Siberia . In the southeast it penetrates to Indonesia , where it inhabits the island of Sumatra . The tiger continued to exist on Java until the 1970s. It even reached the island of Bali until the 1930s. The tiger from Borneo is from the Pleistocene and subfossil finds from the Holocene. Tigers were once widespread west of India in Western Asia and Central Asia, but the species has most likely been extinct here since the 1970s.

Historical circulation area

Distribution area of ​​the tiger around 1900 and 1990

Individual tigers can sometimes cover considerable distances, so a distinction must be made between permanently populated areas and those in which tigers only appear occasionally. Even in areas where humans exterminated the tigers, individual wandering animals appear again and again.

Presumably, the tiger was widespread in the Middle Ages , especially in the 10th and 11th centuries, in the eastern Transcaucasus and the foothills of the Lesser and Greater Caucasus . At that time, they could have advanced far north along the west coast of the Caspian Sea . There is even evidence that the tiger penetrated into areas north of the Caucasus, possibly even as far as the Don and Dnieper . For example, the "ljuty swer" ( Russian лю́тый зверь , fierce, wild animal) called in Russian medieval literature could have been a tiger. Sometimes a lion or leopard is also suspected behind it. Most likely the tiger was found at least in the northern foothills of the Caucasus .

The westernmost occurrences were in modern times on the southern slopes of the Caucasus, primarily in the eastern part of the mountains. From there, individual animals penetrated up to about 70 km to the Black Sea in the 18th to 20th centuries and reached Armenia , Tbilisi , the upper Kura and the middle Rioni and Kivirili . In the northeast, the tiger in the Caucasus reached the areas around Baku and even Derbent on the coast of the Caspian Sea. At that time the species also inhabited southeast Turkey and Transcaucasia, in particular the Talysh and Lenkoran areas , from where the distribution area extended through Iran along the Caspian Sea and the Elburs Mountains to the east to the Atrek River. In contrast, the tiger never appeared in southern Iran.

On the Atrek River, the area of ​​the tiger passed into today's Turkmenistan , where it occurred in the southwest of the country. The mountains of the western Kopet-Dag were regularly visited by tigers, but apparently not settled permanently. The eastern areas, however, are unsuitable for tigers. Even further to the east, on the Tedzen and Murgab rivers, the range of the tiger also extended into southern Turkmenistan. There was also a connection to the Iranian occurrences as well as to the populations of Afghanistan . In Afghanistan the tiger only inhabited the extreme north, to the southeast the area of ​​the tiger was limited by the ridges of the Hindu Kush and Pamir. There is also a single evidence from Northern Iraq.

In the former Soviet republics, the tiger was found next to the Caucasian and southern Turkmen populations, especially on the Amu Darja , Wachsch , Syr Darja and Ili rivers . The deposits in the area of ​​the Amu Darya and Wachsch were connected with those in Afghanistan, the stocks on the Ili River and thus also those around the Balkhash and Alaköl Lakes , on the other hand, extended over to western China. Here he at least reached Lake Bosten . The tigers of the Syr-Darya system were isolated from those of the Amu Darya River on the one hand and those of the Ili-Balkhash region on the other hand by large arid zones. Nevertheless, in the past, individual animals repeatedly wandered through these areas that were actually unsuitable for tigers, which ensured an exchange of populations.

The northernmost permanent stocks in the Western Asia were the at the southern Altai Mountains on Zaysan , the Black Irtysh and Kurchum -Tal in Kazakhstan and western China. From there individual specimens penetrated very far to the north and were shot at Nur-Sultan , Barnaul and Bijsk , for example . According to reports, individual animals are said to have even reached Lake Acit Nuur in western Mongolia.

From areas far east of the Altai Mountains, such as the Lake Baikal region , there is hardly any evidence from the 19th and 20th centuries. Nevertheless, the recently established close genetic relationship of the Caspian and Siberian tigers suggests that the range once extended continuously from the Middle East to Eastern Siberia. At least individual tigers are documented in these areas in modern times. One tiger was detected in the upper reaches of the Angara in 1828 , another in 1834 on Lake Baikal. Even further to the east, in the area of ​​the Onon and Argun rivers , tigers were regularly found as solitary animals, at least until the middle of the 20th century. From there, the permanent distribution area followed the Amur River like a ribbon to the east, with the northernmost stocks in historical times being on the southern slopes of the Stanowoy Mountains , around 45 ° N. On the coast, the northern limit of permanent settlement was around 50 ° N. From there, individual animals repeatedly penetrated very far into the north. A tiger was shot in around 1905 on the Aldan River at 60 ° north latitude. Another was found at 56 ° N in 1944. South of the Amur, the tiger was found on the western slopes of the Great Chingan Mountains in China. In the west it even reached the Buir Nuur Lake area on the Mongolian border. The distribution area extended from there over the Sungari Plain to Korea and finally further south over large parts of eastern China to front and rear India. The westernmost occurrence of a tiger in central China is marked by a single specimen that appeared on the upper reaches of the Minjiang in Sichuan at the beginning of the 20th century . To the south the tiger was spread over the whole of rear India to the Malay Peninsula. The striped cat was also found in Sumatra, Java and Bali. In addition, it once populated almost the entire Indian subcontinent from the southern tip to the slopes of the Himalayas in the north. Only in the extreme northwest of India, where the arid regions of the Tharr desert begin, is the tiger naturally absent. Historically, tigers have not occurred on the island of Sri Lanka either. In Pakistan the tiger was only found in the industrial lowlands, which it presumably reached from India. From the West Asian occurrences that began in northern Afghanistan, the populations of the Indus Valley were isolated by extensive arid areas and mountain ranges.

Loss of territory and current distribution

Parts of the former (beige) and today's (green) distribution area, the subspecies boundaries are marked by lines

In particular due to the increasing settlement of many areas as well as increased hunting, which decimated both the tiger and prey populations, the tiger suffered drastic territorial losses since the late 19th century. The tigers of the island of Bali were an early victim . The last specimen of the Balitiger is documented from 1937. In the southern Caucasus region and in Transcaucasia, tigers were relatively common until the beginning of the 20th century, then the populations fell sharply and were completely extinct around the middle of the 20th century. Only a few animals later occasionally migrated from Iran via the Talysh Mountains to the Caucasus. The last ones are likely to have taken this route in the 1960s. The tiger disappeared from most parts of the Russian Empire at the end of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th century. In 1936 a few tigers lived on the lower Ili River. The last one was registered on the Syr Darja in 1945, on the Ili in 1948. The longest tigers were in the south of the former Soviet Union in the border area with Afghanistan. In the southern part of the Amu-Darya area near the mouth of the Wachsch, in the area of ​​the Tigrowaja-Balka nature reserve , as well as in the neighboring valley of the Pyanj , tigers raised their offspring in the 1930s. Around 1950, however, only a few specimens lived there. Since the 1950s to 1960s, the tiger in the western part of what was then the Soviet Union, and most likely also in Afghanistan, seems to have been exterminated. It lasted the longest in southeast Turkey, where individual animals survived until the 1970s. Today it is considered to be extinct in all of the Middle East, so the Caspian tiger has become extinct as a subspecies. The Javanese subspecies of the tiger probably also died out in the 1970s. The tiger has almost completely disappeared from China today. In all other occurrence areas, the distribution area also shrank in the course of the 20th century, with the exception of a few island-like relic populations.

The tiger continued to lose ground in the recent past. Between 1995 and 2005 alone, the range of the tiger in Asia decreased by 40%, so that the animals now only colonize seven percent of their original habitat . Today tigers can only be found in the Far East of Russia and adjacent parts of northern China, on the Indian subcontinent and in remote regions of Southeast Asia from the Chinese province of Yunnan in the north to the Malay Peninsula in the south. The only larger island where tigers are still found is Sumatra . More detailed information on the current distribution can be found in the inventory chapter.


The tiger population collapsed completely in the 20th century. In 1920 it was assumed that there were around 100,000 tigers worldwide. In the 1970s, however, the estimates were only around 4,000 wild animals. The Java tiger and the Caspian tiger died out completely around this time. The Balitiger had already sunk in the 1930s. Around the middle of the 20th century, the wild population of the Amur tiger was on the verge of extinction. The game population of this northernmost tiger breed was around 20 to 30 animals in 1947. Largely thanks to various conservation projects, such as the Project Tiger of WWF , the stocks in Eastern Siberia and India recovered clearly during the following year or something remained largely stable. However, stocks continued to decline in other areas.

Around the year 2000 the total population was estimated at 5000 to 7000 animals. Since then, the tiger's wild populations have continued to decline. Today it is assumed that around 3890 wild tigers still exist worldwide (as of April 2016). However, the current lower estimates are partly due to more precise counting methods. The IUCN lists the total population of the tiger as "critically endangered" ( Endangered ). The tiger has been exterminated in Afghanistan , Iran , Kazakhstan , Kyrgyzstan , North Korea , Pakistan , Singapore , Tajikistan , Turkey , Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan .

subspecies Estimated number
Sibirian Tiger approx. 400; IUCN status: endangered
Bengal tiger 1700-2300; IUCN status: endangered
Indochinese tiger approx. 350; IUCN status: endangered
Malay tiger approx. 250; IUCN status: endangered
South China tiger (possibly extinct in the wild) IUCN status: critically endangered
Sumatran tiger 350-500; IUCN status: critically endangered
Balitiger (extinct)
Jelly tiger (extinct)
Caspian tiger (extinct)

Russia and China

There are still around 330 to 400 tigers living in the Far East of Russia, but no tigers have been sighted in North Korea since 1998. In China, the population was originally divided into three subspecies. In the north, the Russian population is bordered by an Amur tiger population, which the Chinese government specifies as around 20 animals. Furthermore, according to official figures, there are around ten Indochinatigers living in the extreme south of China in the province of Yunnan. The population of the South China tiger, on the other hand, seems to have died out. In the meantime, however, a resettlement in the former habitats is planned.

Tiger farms

In tiger farms, the animals are also bred and processed for the production and marketing of traditional Chinese medicine .

Indian subcontinent

On the Indian subcontinent ( India , Nepal , Bhutan , Bangladesh ) tigers now live almost exclusively in protected areas. The largest populations are in the north ( Rajaji - Corbett , Dudhwa - Bardia , Chitwan , Buxa, Manas , Kaziranga ), the central parts of India (e.g. Kanha , Pench , Satpura , Melghat , Bandhavgarh , Simlipal , Indravati , Nagarjunasagar) as well as the Nagarhole - Bandipur National Park area in southern India. In India, which is still the country with the greatest number of tigers, there are around 1200 to 1700 tigers , not counting the population in the Sundarbans , which extends over to Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, tigers only live in the Sundarbans. The population in the mangrove swamps is estimated at around 200 tigers. In Bhutan there are probably only around 70 to 80 tigers left, in Nepal probably around 100 to 200, most of which (around 50) occur in the Chitwan National Park . However, a counter-trend has emerged in India in recent years. A few years ago, counts were around 200-300 animals higher than in 2007. In January 2015, the WWF announced that it had succeeded in increasing the population in India to over 2,200 animals. This corresponds to a population growth of 30%.

South East Asia

In Southeast Asia, too, tigers are now restricted to retreat areas. The populations there are generally even more threatened than those on the Indian subcontinent. Myanmar still has around 150 tigers. In Thailand, the number of wild tigers was estimated at only about 250 animals in the early 1990s. The largest populations in the country are found in the Thung-Yai - Huai-Kha-Khaeng Reservation Complex. The population there is estimated at around 110 tigers, making it one of the largest on the Southeast Asian mainland. In Cambodia and Laos there are probably no more than 30 tigers each, in Vietnam, especially in the border area to these two countries, there seem to be fewer than 50 animals, but a maximum of 150.

It is believed that three tiger populations still exist on the Malay Peninsula, none of which consist of more than 250 animals. One of them lives in the Taman Negara National Park . About 350 to 500, perhaps a little more, tigers are likely to live on Sumatra. However, none of the populations on this island is likely to exceed 50 reproductive animals. The three areas of Sumatra, which today are home to the most important stocks, are on the one hand the Gunung Leuser area in the north of the island, on the other hand the Kerinchi Seblat area in the west and third the area of ​​the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in the central part. The Sumatran tiger population is still in decline.


The greatest threat comes from the destruction of the tiger's habitats. The clearing of forests, the expansion of agricultural land and the shrinking of prey populations are the greatest dangers. In addition, the illegal hunting of tigers represents another major threat. The trade in tiger products, which are mainly used in traditional Chinese medicine, is one reason for illegal hunting. Above all, the bones, which are ground into powder, are used. Since the collapse of the Chinese tiger populations in the 1950s to 1970s, the market could no longer be supplied with native tigers, which also put the other subspecies under pressure. In 1975 the trade in tiger products was banned by the CITES , and in 1993 China followed suit with a national trade ban. Still, the tiger population continues to decline. Recently, tiger skins have also been increasingly traded illegally. It is disputed to what extent tiger farms could take the pressure off hunting from wild stocks. Selling tiger products from captivity would likely decrease demand. However, one would have to restrict the trade ban. This in turn would run the risk that poached tiger products could be sold legally and could hardly be distinguished from those from farms. In addition to the extraction of tiger products, the tiger is also hunted as a cattle predator.

Planned release projects

Above all, China is working on the resettlement of tigers in former habitats. The organization Save Chinas Tigers tries to breed and get used to hunting South Chinese tigers outside of China in a reserve in South Africa, in order to later release them back into their original habitat. There are also other plans to release captive-born tigers into China. The release of Amur tigers into the wild is also being considered. Numerous tigers of this subspecies exist in captivity in China. To take the pressure off the wild tiger populations, a tiger farm was established in Harbin (China) in 1986. After the Chinese trade ban, the facility was converted into a tiger park; around 800 Amur tigers live in it. From a genetic point of view, at least 200 of them appear to be suitable for a breeding program for potential release into the wild. The biggest problems here are likely to be the enormous space requirements of the predators and the habituation to the wilderness. Another problem could be the low genetic variability of these animals.

There are also considerations to reintroduce the tiger in the area of ​​the Ili Delta in Kazakhstan. Since the Caspian tiger, which was once common there, is completely extinct, Siberian tigers would be used. According to genetic evidence, both forms are very closely related.

Conservation breeding in zoos

The international stud book (ISB) is kept for all tiger subspecies in the Leipzig Zoo . In 2017 the studbook contained, in addition to animals without subspecies status, 578 living Siberian tigers in 234 institutions, 151 South Chinese tigers in 15 institutions, 18 Indochinese tigers in four institutions, 83 Malay tigers in 38 institutions, 235 Bengal tigers in 40 institutions and 387 Sumatra tigers in 118 institutions . Of the German zoos, 31 keep Amur tigers, nine keep Sumatra tigers, two keep Malay tigers and 20 keep tigers without subspecies status. Bengal tigers, Indochinese tigers and South China tigers are not kept in European institutions. Sometimes, however, tigers without subspecies status are presented to zoo visitors as "Bengal tigers" in order to advertise their protection.

Way of life

Tiger habitat in Ranthambhore National Park
Tropical forest habitat in Taman-Negara

Tigers are mostly active at dusk or at night, but occasionally go hunting during the day. Tigers often travel long distances in search of prey. This is especially true for tigers in areas with little prey such as Eastern Siberia. There the cats roam around 20 to 25 km per day, in exceptional cases even 80 to 100 km. In addition to these marches within the district, long walks are particularly noticeable when the animals are apparently looking for new residential areas. The animals sometimes move several hundred kilometers away from their traditional territories. Tigers swim excellent and, unlike other cats like lions or leopards, like to go into the water. The big cats can swim through rivers 6 to 8 km wide, in exceptional cases even 29 km wide. In contrast, tigers are relatively poor climbers due to their size. As a rule, they are reluctant to climb larger trees, but in an emergency they are able to do so, as was documented in the case of wild dog attacks or a storm surge in the Sundarbans in 1969. The tigers use sheltered places within the roaming area. These can be fallen trees, thickets or caves.


The tiger inhabits a variety of different habitats, from tropical rainforests and mangrove swamps to savannah and swamp areas to temperate and boreal coniferous, deciduous and mixed forests. In the Middle East the tiger inhabited deciduous forests and bush areas as well as the river forests between the arid regions. In China, subtropical mountain forests are also part of the natural habitats. Tigers usually stay in areas below 2000 m. In Kazakhstan , the animals sometimes hunted at 2500 m, in the Himalayas tigers were even detected at 4000 m. In the Far East of Russia the cats prefer the mixed forests of the lower elevations. In the north of the Indian subcontinent, the humid Terai areas, which consist of high grasslands, swamps and river forests, are important habitats. In south and central India, they are mainly found in sal forests , interspersed with grass clearings, but also in real thorn bush forests as found in Ranthambhore National Park . In the Sundarbans , tigers live in extensive mangrove swamps , in Assam and Southeast Asia in humid forests. Siberian tigers in particular are very insensitive to the cold. Areas with a snow cover of 30 cm and more are unsuitable for tigers, probably also because the wild boar does not occur there. Ultimately, the tiger is very adaptable in terms of habitat, but is dependent on a certain amount of cover, sufficient prey and access to water.

Social behavior

Territoriality and population density

Aggressive behavior

Tigers are usually solitary animals, so males and females usually only mate for a short time . Since young tigers stay with their mother for up to three years, females are almost always found in the company of young or juvenile tigers. Families consisting of the two parents and the offspring are rarely observed.

Sumatran tiger with cub

As a rule, only those animals reproduce that have a territory. By marking them with urine, they demarcate the territory , the size of which in the female tigers depends on the availability of the prey. The territory of one male usually overlaps with that of several (two to seven) females. In the Chitwan National Park, with a prey biomass of around 2000 kg / km², the range of a female tiger is on average 23 km² , that of a male on average 68 km². In the deciduous forests of the Sichote-Alin reserve in the Far East of Russia, where the average biomass of prey animals is around 400 kg / km², the territory of a female tiger covers around 200 to 400 km². Although the territories can partially overlap, the average territory sizes reflect the population density of the tigers in an area. In the Indian Kanha National Park about ten to 15 animals live on an area of ​​320 km². In the Chitwan National Park in Nepal there are an average of eight tigers per 100 km². In the Kaziranga National Park there are even more than 16 tigers per 100 km², in Nagarhole around 13 to 15. In contrast, in the Far East of Russia, depending on the type of habitat, only about 0.5 to 1.4 tigers live per 100 km². The tropical forests of Malaysia, Sumatra and Laos are usually also characterized by very low prey densities. The tiger population densities are particularly low here. The extremely large roaming areas of the Siberian tigers seem to be due not only to the relatively low density of prey, but also to human stalking. For example, young tigers in the Sichote-Alin reservation usually settled in their mother's territory, provided that there were no losses through human stalking. If the failure rate was high, however, they occupied their own territories. Accordingly, the potentially required territory size of a female in this area is likely to be well below the actual area of ​​around 400 square kilometers. As territorial animals, tigers normally defend their territory against conspecifics of the same sex. The territory is marked by urine, which is sprayed against trees or bushes with the tail raised. Scratch marks that tigers often leave on trees could also serve this purpose. It is unlikely that the roar is also used to mark territory, as is the case with lions, since tigers roar very rarely. Female tigers often occupy a territory in the direct vicinity of their mother, which means that the female tigers in an area are often as closely related as the lionesses in a pack. Male tigers, on the other hand, wander around trying to find an orphaned territory or to drive away another male in combat.


Tigers mating

Tigers in tropical habitats do not have a preferred breeding season. In the Amur region , on the other hand, most young animals are born in spring. When the female is ready to mate, she sets more scent marks. The females are ready to conceive for about five days in captivity. In the wild, however, the couples are usually only together for two days. During this time, the animals mate frequently, around 17 to 52 times a day. However, the act of mating is quite short. When mating, the female lies on the ground while the male stands over him and grips his neck with his teeth. The females are then often very ready to attack, hissing and punching the male with their paws.

Female tiger with cubs in the Kanha Tiger Reserve
Amur tiger with cub

If mating is unsuccessful, the female will return to heat about a month later. After successful mating, the female usually gives birth to two to five young after a gestation period of around 103 days, with the average being three. Litters of just one or up to seven young are occasional. The female chooses a sheltered place in the thicket, tall grass, between crevices or in a cave as a birthplace. The boys are initially blind and helpless and weigh only 785 to 1610 g. In the first few weeks, the female always stays in the vicinity of the camp. As soon as the young get older and more agile after two to three months, the female gradually increases its range. After about six months, the young are weaned, but are not yet able to hunt independently. They lose their milk teeth after about twelve to 18 months. At around this age they are physically able to hunt. After 18 to 20 months, the young are mostly independent, but then stay in their mother's territory for some time. The migration usually coincides with the birth of the new litter. During a study in Chitwan National Park, the males migrated an average of 33 km away, while the females only settled about 10 km from their mother's territory. Out of ten male tigers examined, only four succeeded in occupying their own territory. On average, female tigers have their first offspring at a little over three years of age, males at just under five. Females are reproductive for an average of about six years, at best about twelve years. According to this, female tigers that reach sexual maturity reach an average age of around 9 years in the wild. Due to the high rate of boy mortality, a female only raises an average of four to five cubs in her life before she becomes self-employed. The average life expectancy of a tiger in captivity is 16 to 18 years. The animals rarely reach an age of 20 to 25 years.


Tigers are usually quiet. You still have a large arsenal of different sounds. The most common is the far-reaching, deep roar, which can be reproduced with Ao-ung and is usually repeated several times. It is associated with mating behavior. When attacking, the tiger often emits a short, cough-like roar that is reminiscent of a dull shot. The male makes a similar sound when mating.


Tigers feed primarily on large mammals, which are usually stalked and overwhelmed after a short spurt. Ungulates such as deer, wild cattle and wild boar represent the main prey, smaller mammals such as hares and rabbits make up a smaller part of the food, as well as birds, but also reptiles and even larger crocodiles . The tiger can also kill animals as powerful as Gaurbullen alone.

Loot spectrum

Composition of tiger prey by biomass in various reserves

The most important prey animals of the tiger are deer and wild boar in the entire distribution area. In the national parks in the Indian subcontinent, for example in Chitwan (Nepal), Nagahole (India) and Kanha (India), make bigger deer ( Axis Deer , Sambarhirsch , Barasingha ) significantly more than half of the biomass of prey from Tiger. In Nagarhole in particular, the giant gaur also makes up a large proportion of the tiger's prey. Other important prey animals in the region are wild boar, pig deer and muntjak deer, while porcupines, hares and langurs make up a relatively small part of the tiger diet in these reserves due to their small size. In some areas of the Indian subcontinent, antelopes, especially the Nilgau antelope , are important prey animals. In the Thai Huai Kha Kaeng game reserve , the main diet of the tiger is made up of a varied mix of sambar deer, muntjak deer, wild boar, porcupine and pig badger. In the Sichote-Alin nature reserve in the Russian Far East, on the other hand, the bulk of the food consists of Isubra deer and wild boar. Overall, the existence of the tiger depends on the presence of relatively large prey such as deer and wild boar. The extinct occurrences of the Caspian tiger, for example, also coincided with the populations of Bukhara deer, roe deer and wild boar in the river forests of the otherwise dry region of the Middle East. In Tajikistan, the Caspian tiger once hunted goitered gazelles and red foxes, and is said to have even hunted saiga antelopes on rivers in the steppe of the former Soviet Union . Tigers can kill prey that is several times greater than its own weight. Large wild cattle such as arnibuffalo and gaure are regularly shot, with mostly cows and calves being killed. Occasionally tigers also tear saddleback tapirs and sometimes even young Indian rhinos that have strayed too far from their mother. Attacks on wild elephants are extremely rare and usually confined to calves, although there have been credible reports of successful attacks on adult bulls. In some populations, bears also make up part of the prey. While the Indian sloth bears are apparently seldom victims of tigers, collar bears and, more rarely, brown bears are among the potential prey of the Siberian Amur tigers . In total, bears in the Far East of Russia represent around 5 to 8% of the tiger prey, with adult brown bears also being hunted.

Sambar deer, like this one in Nagarhole National Park, are typical prey of the tiger

In the Russian Far East, in addition to isubra deer and wild boar, tigers mainly kill elk, sika deer , musk deer, roe deer and gorals , and occasionally northern lynxes, badgers, hares and even hazel grouse . Similarly, in India, the tiger occasionally hunts small animals such as rodents, turtles, fish, and even grasshoppers and frogs. Carnivores such as larger crocodiles are also occasionally killed, leopards are usually killed as food competitors, and more rarely eaten. In addition, fruits and grasses are also included. The tiger seems to be less willing to eat carrion than the lion, for example. Cannibalism does occur, but normally only young animals are eaten by strange males or conspecifics found dead.

In addition, the tiger sometimes attacks farm animals. In particular, dogs and larger ungulates such as goats, sheep, cattle, domestic water buffalo, donkeys and horses are captured. While attacks on pets are usually the exception, there are tigers, particularly in India, who specialize in this type of food acquisition. In contrast to animals that live on wild prey ( game killer ), they are referred to as cattle killer .

Hunting techniques

South China tiger with a hunted prey. The animals are being prepared in South Africa for later release in China.

Tigers sneak up on their prey or lie in wait for it and attack it after a few leaps or a short spurt. In contrast to the lion, tigers seem to consider the wind direction when hunting and prefer to approach against the wind. The robber crouches and tries to get closer to the victim to an average of about ten to 35 m. If the distance is too great and there is no further cover available, the tiger waits until the victim approaches by itself. The attack takes place in full spurt, at short distances, in deep snow or rough terrain, even in large leaps. If the tiger does not reach the victim immediately, it will pursue it for a maximum of 100 to 200 m. After that, he usually stops the persecution. Once he has reached the prey, he usually tries to pull larger animals to the ground with the force of the impact. As a rule, it attacks larger animals mostly from below or from the side in order to reach the throat with the mouth. The victim is usually strangled. The paws are used to hold the victim. Smaller animals are usually killed by neck bites. Occasionally the tiger bites into the neck of the victim even with larger prey, mostly to bite through the vertebrae. Really large prey such as adult wild cattle can hardly be killed in this way and are therefore attacked by bites in the throat or mouth. Another killing method can also be considered. For example, prey with a broken neck is found more often, although it is unclear whether this is accidentally or deliberately on impact. Wild cattle and young elephants are beyond also attacked from behind, with the aim of them the sinews slog. When hunting bears, tigers also apparently attack from behind, trying to bite through their neck vertebrae. When attacking a full-grown elephant, which only happens in exceptional cases, the tiger has to attack from behind in order to avoid the trunk. Apparently, such attacks are mostly carried out jointly. One tiger then distracts the elephant while another attacks from behind. After jumping on its back, the cat tries to wound the elephant with bites, which is repeated several times and thus leads to exhaustion and high blood loss of the animal.

Loot securing, consumption and food requirements

Tiger in Ranthambhore National Park with a water buffalo calf

The hunted prey is usually dragged into a protected hiding place, whereby even adult cattle can be dragged several hundred meters away. Tigers usually begin to feed on the rump, while lions usually open the abdominal cavity first. The predator drinks regularly after or during feeding and usually lingers near the prey until it is consumed. If it moves further away from its crack, it covers it with leaves and branches. Larger prey usually have the head and legs left over. A tiger can eat an estimated 18 to 27 kg with a single meal, and in extreme cases probably up to 40 kg.

A female tiger needs about 5 to 6 kg of meat per day. Since an average of only two thirds of a carcass can be used, the animal must have at least prey animals with a total weight of between 2,400 and 2,850 kg available per year. This would roughly correspond to a sambar deer weighing 200 kg every four weeks or a muntjac every two to three days. During the rearing of the young, the meat requirement is up to 50% higher. A female tiger in Siberia that leads cubs requires about 5000 kg of meat per year, which corresponds to about 50 large prey animals with an average weight of 100 kg. After eating, the tiger thoroughly cleans its fur of the victim's blood and other dirt by licking it off. The head is cleaned with the front paw, which itself is licked again and again. The tiger occasionally cleans its fur in this way even when it is resting.


The tiger's droppings are elongated and about 35 to 40 mm in diameter. It is usually brown to black in color and consists of a semi-solid, pitch-like mass, provided the food mainly consisted of muscles or blood. You can usually find undigested food residues such as hair or bones in it.

Man-eating tigers

People are captured very frequently in the Sundarbans in the Ganges Delta area , occasionally in other areas of India and very rarely in the rest of the range. The vast majority of tiger attacks occur in the Sundarbans. Around 1980 it is estimated that around 100 people were killed by tigers there every year. Usually, the tiger avoids humans. However, some tigers become almost pure cannibals for unknown reasons. Possible reasons for the development of the so-called maneater can be injuries or the advanced age of the animal, which prevents a tiger from killing its natural prey in sufficient quantities. A way out in this case is offered by humans, who are much slower and not as defensive as many prey animals. In contrast to leopards, tigers very rarely invade human settlements. They basically only kill people who leave their villages, such as loggers and honey collectors.

Natural enemies

Illustration of an attack by Asian wild dogs on a tiger

As a top predator , the tiger has hardly any natural enemies in its entire range. It is sometimes claimed that the Asiatic wild dog is able to kill tigers in packs. However, this can only apply to old, weak or young tigers. The wild dog cannot be considered a real enemy. Wolves seem to be kept short by the tiger rather than having to fear them. Young and half-adult tigers are occasionally killed by brown bears. Bears always avoid adult tigers. In addition, the Asiatic lion comes into consideration as a potential enemy, which reaches a similar size and lives in packs. However, since the distribution areas of these animals no longer overlap, the lion is neither a natural enemy nor a competitor of the tiger. The habitat requirements of both species are also significantly different, as the lion prefers more open habitats. Tigers carry parasites, but the diseases and diseases of wild tigers have hardly been researched.

Cultural history

Similar to how the lion is referred to as the “king of animals” in European or African cultures, the tiger has a similar meaning in Asian cultures. Attributes such as "King of the Jungle", "Tsar of the Taiga" or "Ruler over all animals" emphasize the position that this cat has in the perception of human societies. In some tribes the tiger had the status of a deity until the recent past. In the western culture, however, the tiger has long been portrayed as bloodthirsty and dangerous. Today, thanks to its beauty and symbolic strength, the tiger is one of the world's most popular wild animals and, as a symbol of the wilderness, is very popular, which could benefit the protection of the species. The tiger also represents a so-called flagship species . These mostly media-effective species help conservation projects to achieve greater acceptance, support and priority. Other species in the same habitat can also benefit from the popularity of the tiger in the sense of a “rock-tip effect”.

The word "tiger" was derived from lat . tigris from gr . τίγρις tígris borrowed, but ultimately comes from an oriental, probably an Iranian language . Some researchers suggest a kinship with Avestan tigri- "arrow" and Old Persian tigra "acute".

The goddess Durga riding a tiger

The tiger has impressed people since time immemorial with its strength, size and agility. The earliest representation of a tiger is known from the official seals of the Indus culture in today's Pakistan and comes from about 5000 years ago. The tiger appears in illustrations clearly after the first depictions of lions, the oldest of which were made around 30,000 years ago. The tiger plays an important role in Hinduism . The goddess Durga rides a tiger while Shiva sits on a tiger skin. The tiger also found its way into Buddhism and adorns various shrines and temples.

In the cultures of the East, such as India and China, the tiger has long played an important role, similar to that of the lion in the ancient Mediterranean region. Relief depictions of tigers are known on Proto-Indian monuments from the second millennium BC. These often show a hero wrestling with two tigers and who seems to be analogous to the legendary hero Gilgamesh . But also in the Scythian art of the Euro-Asian steppe cultures, especially between 1000 and 500 BC. The tiger was often depicted. In the art of the Mesopotamian and Asia Minor peoples of ancient times, however, the tiger does not appear. In ancient Iranian art, the tiger is a relatively rare motif, although the cat was featured here. In ancient Greece , and thus in Europe, tigers only became known through the campaigns of Alexander the Great (330–325 BC) in Asia . A little later, the first tiger came to Athens as a gift from King Seleucus I. At that time, lions were still wild in Greece, which explains why this cat is much closer to western culture than the tiger.

In ancient Rome, tigers were used in circus games. The first tiger in Rome was a gift to Augustus from India in 19 BC. The second tiger was born at the opening of the Marcellus Theater in 11 BC. Shown to the population. During Elagabal's wedding , 51 tigers were brought before and killed.

This emperor is also reported to have tigers harnessed to his chariot when depicting the god Bacchus . Overall, however, tigers were used much less often in circus games than lions, for example.

Also because the tiger is not mentioned in the Bible, it seems to have been forgotten later in Europe. It was not until Marco Polo's travels in the 13th century that he was rediscovered for the Europeans. Marco Polo first saw them at the court of Kublai Khan , but described these animals as lions that were larger than the "Babylonian" and also had black, white and red stripes. The first tiger to reach Europe in post-Roman times was probably the one at the court of the Duchess of Savoy in Turin , who arrived there in 1478. Shortly afterwards, tigers found their way to other European courts.

Chinese tiger representation

The most famous tigers in literary history are probably Shir Khan in Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book and Tigger in Alan Alexander Milne's Pooh the Bear . Schota Rustawelis The warrior in the tiger skin is considered the national epic of Georgia . William Blake's poem The Tiger is one of the most famous poems of English Romanticism. In 2002 Yann Martel won the Booker Prize for the novel Schiffbruch mit Tiger .

In China , the tiger was a symbol of power, strength and bravery and was assigned to the male element ( Yang ). The white tiger, on the other hand, stood for the west, autumn, and was thus an animal of the female principle (yin). He also played a certain role as a conqueror of demons in exorcism and medicine . After all, he is the 3rd tier of the Chinese zodiac . In the Qing Dynasty it was the badge of the officers of the 4th rank and - as a "young tiger" - the 6th rank.

For at least 1500 years the tiger has played an important role as a symbol of strength in traditional medicine in Asian countries, especially China. Various organs and body parts of the big cat are supposed to help against ailments such as rheumatism and impotence, whereby they are usually ground into powder. The demand for these products is still the cause of poaching of tigers and threatens the existence of the species.

The tiger still plays an important role in many cultures today. Every 12th year is dedicated to the tiger in Chinese culture. South Korea chose the tiger as the symbol of the 1988 Olympic Games . It adorns various national coats of arms, such as that of Malaysia. As a symbol of strength, it is used to describe the economic boom in the so-called tiger states .

While tiger populations continue to decline in the wild, large numbers of tigers of various subspecies exist in captivity. Their number is estimated at around 11,000 animals. There are around 1000 tigers in various zoos, mainly in Europe, the USA and Japan. Around 5000 animals live in private enclosures in the USA and another 5000 in other private enclosures, mainly in China. The Harbin Tiger Park alone has 800 Amur tigers.


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Web links

Commons : Tiger ( Panthera tigris )  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Tiger  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

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  43. ^ TMC - Tiger Medicine Cina
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  45. Press release, March 28, 2011 World Wide Fund For Nature
  46. Press release, January 20, 2015 World Wide Fund For Nature
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  52. Tigers - zootier-lexikon.org. Retrieved July 3, 2020 .
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  56. John M. Goodrich, Dale G. Miquelle, Evgeny N. Smirnov, Linda L. Kerley, Howard B. Quigley, and Maurice G. Hornocker: Spatial structure of Amur (Siberian) tigers ( Panthera tigris altaica ) on Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Zapovednik, Russia. Journal of Mammalogy : June 2010, Vol. 91, No. 3, pp. 737-748. doi: 10.1644 / 09-MAMM-A-293.1 .
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  61. Mazák, 1983 (p. 124 ff.)
  62. Mazák, 1983 (pp. 117 ff.)
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  67. ^ Wolfram Eberhard: Lexicon of Chinese symbols. The imagery of the Chinese. , P. 282
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on July 20, 2006 .