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Tiger

The tiger (Panthera tigris) is the largest cat species, most recognizable for its pattern of dark vertical stripes on reddish-orange fur with a lighter underside. The species is classified in the genus Panthera with the lion, jaguar, leopard, and snow leopard. It is an apex predator, primarily preying on ungulates such as deer and bovids. It is territorial and generally a solitary but social predator, often requiring large contiguous areas of habitat that support its prey requirements. This, coupled with the fact that it is indigenous to some of the more densely populated places on Earth, has caused significant conflicts with humans.

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Tigers once ranged widely across eastern Eurasia, from the Black Sea in the west, to the Indian Ocean in the south, and from Kolyma to Sumatra in the east. Over the past 100 years, they have lost at least 93% of their historic range, and have been extirpated from Western and Central Asia, from the islands of Java and Bali, and from large areas of Southeast, Southern, and Eastern Asia. Today, they range from the Siberian taiga to open grasslands and tropical mangrove swamps. The remaining six tiger subspecies have been classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The global population in the wild is estimated to number between 3,062 and 3,948 individuals, down from around 100,000 at the start of the 20th century, with most remaining populations occurring in small pockets isolated from each other. Major reasons for population decline include habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation and poaching.

The tiger is among the most recognisable and popular of the world's charismatic megafauna. It featured prominently in ancient mythology and folklore and continues to be depicted in modern films and literature, appearing on many flags, coats of arms and as mascots for sporting teams. The tiger is the national animal of India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and South Korea.

Recent subspecies

Following Linnaeus's first descriptions of the species, several tiger specimens were described and proposed as subspecies. The validity of several tiger subspecies was questioned in 1999. Most putative subspecies described in the 19th and 20th centuries were distinguished on basis of fur length and coloration, striping patterns and body size, hence characteristics that vary widely within populations. Morphologically, tigers from different regions vary little, and gene flow between populations in those regions is considered to have been possible during the Pleistocene. Therefore, it was proposed to recognize only two tiger subspecies as valid, namely P. t. tigris in mainland Asia, and P. t. sondaica in the Greater Sunda Islands and possibly in Sundaland

Results of craniological analysis of 111 tiger skulls from Southeast Asian range countries indicate that Sumatran tiger skulls differ from Indochinese and Javan tiger skulls, whereas Bali tiger skulls are similar in size to Javan tiger skulls. The authors proposed to classify Sumatran and Javan tiger as distinct species, P. sumatrae and P. sondaica with Bali tiger as subspecies P. sondaica balica

In 2015, morphological, ecological and molecular traits of all putative tiger subspecies were analysed in a combined approach. Results support distinction of the two evolutionary groups continental and Sunda tigers. The authors proposed recognition of only two subspecies, namely P. t. tigris comprising the Bengal, Malayan, Indochinese, South Chinese, Siberian and Caspian tiger populations, and P. t. sondaica comprising the Javan, Bali and Sumatran tiger populations. The authors also noted that this reclassification will affect tiger conservation management. One conservation specialist welcomed this proposal as it would make captive breeding programmes and future rewilding of zoo-born tigers easier. One geneticist was sceptical of this study and maintained that the currently recognised nine subspecies can be distinguished genetically. 

Size

There is a notable sexual dimorphism between males and females, with the latter being consistently smaller than males. The size difference between males and females is proportionally greater in the large tiger subspecies, with males weighing up to 1.7 times more than females. Males also have wider forepaw pads than females, enabling gender to be told from tracks. 

Generally, males vary in total length from 250 to 390 cm (8.2 to 12.8 ft) and weigh between 90 to 306 kg (198 to 675 lb) with skull length ranging from 316 to 383 mm (12.4 to 15.1 in). Females vary in total length from 200 to 275 cm (6.56 to 9.02 ft), weigh 65 to 167 kg (143 to 368 lb) with skull length ranging from 268 to 318 mm (0.879 to 1.043 ft). The heaviest wild tiger ever reported had a total body length of 3.38 m (11.1 ft) over curves. In either sex, the tail represents about 0.6 to 1.1 m (24 to 43 in) of total length. 

Large male Siberian tigers reach a total length of more than 3.5 m (11.5 ft) over curves and 3.3 m (10.8 ft) between the pegs, with a weight of up to at least 300 kg (660 lb). This is considerably larger than the weight of 75 to 140 kg (165 to 309 lb) reached by the Sumatran tiger. At the shoulder, tigers may variously stand 0.7 to 1.22 m (2.3 to 4.0 ft) tall. The heaviest captive tiger was a Siberian tiger at 465 kg (1,025 lb). It has been hypothesised that body size of different tiger populations may be correlated with climate and be explained by thermoregulation and Bergmann's rule, or by distribution and size of available prey species. However, the heaviest wild tiger on record was a Bengal tiger from north India which was shot in 1967. It allegedly weighed 388.7 kg (857 lb), though it should be noted that it had a heavy meal before it was killed, without which it would have weighed significantly less. Likewise, the record length for a tiger's skull was 16.25 in (413 mm) "over the bone" for a tiger that was shot in 1927 in northern India. 

The Bengal and Siberian tigers are amongst the tallest cats in shoulder height. They are also ranked with the Caspian tiger among the biggest cats that ever existed. However, on average, a wild adult male Siberian tiger at 176.4 kg (389 lb) body weight is outweighed by an adult, male Bengal tiger at 196 kg (432 lb).

Colour variations

A well-known allele found only in the Bengal population produces the white tiger, a colour variant first recorded in the Mughal Empire in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Genetically, whiteness is recessive: a cub is white only when both parents carry the allele for whiteness. It is not albinism, pigment being evident in the white tiger's stripes and in their blue eyes. The causative mutation changes a single amino acid in the transporter protein SLC45A2. White tigers are more frequently bred in captivity, where the comparatively small gene pool can lead to inbreeding. This has given white tigers a greater likelihood of being born with physical defects, such as cleft palate, scoliosis (curvature of the spine), and strabismus (squint). 

True albino tigers do exist and may be termed "snow white" tigers. In this colour morph, the stripes are extremely faint on the body while the tail has pale reddish-brown rings. Golden tigers, another colour morph, have pale golden pelage with a blond tone and reddish-brown stripes. These types are rarely recorded in the wild. Both snow white and golden tiger are homozygous for the CORIN gene. 



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