Amazing Tiger Facts And Information For Kids
The largest cat, the apex predator, the protector of the ecosystem — the tiger is on the verge of extinction. Read some amazing facts about tigers and what you and your child can do to protect them.
By Arun Sharma
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fiercest and grandest animal of all?”
Had the Queen Mother asked this question, I am sure the mirror would have replied, “The Tiger, O Queen!”
Believed to have evolved in Asia more than 1 million years ago, the tiger spread across the globe. In the process, this regal animal helped the ecosystem grow and thrive.
Although the thought of an encounter with the animal fills us with fear, it is, in fact, the tiger which is in grave danger today. From more than 1,00,000 over a century ago, their number has dwindled to a few thousands.And, it is only now that we are waking up to the dangers that the extinction of the tiger would cause.
As parents, it is important that we tell our children about the tiger and how it contributes to the survival of humankind.
To help you and your child appreciate the importance of the tiger, and be involved in 'Save the tiger' campaigns and tiger conservation projects, we bring to you some interesting tiger facts.
The tiger family
Tiger, the world’s largest cat, belongs to the family Felidae, genus Panthera and species Panthera tigris.Their habitat encompasses parts of the Russian Far East, China, North Korea, Southeast Asia and India. Since the tiger population stretches across such a vast area, there are nine subspecies of tigers. These are classified as endangered, critically endangered and extinct.
- Panthera tigris tigris — The Bengal tiger (also called the Royal Bengal Tiger or Indian tiger)
- Panthera tigris altaica — The Siberian/Amur tiger
- Panthera tigris corbetti — The Indochinese tiger (named in honour of Jim Corbett)
Critically endangered subspecies
- Panthera tigris sumatrae — The Sumatran tiger
- Panthera tigris jacksoni — The Malayan tiger
- Panthera tigris amoyensis — The South China tiger
- Panthera tigris virgate — The Caspian tiger
- Panthera tigris sondaica — The Javan tiger
- Panthera tigris balica — The Bali tiger
In most cultures across the world, the tiger is considered a symbol of courage and strength. And, why not? The muscular body, the powerful limbs, the sharp claws and the long teeth — all give the tiger a fierce yet majestic appearance. Let’s get to know some more amazing facts about the physical features of tigers.
Siberian tiger facts
Physical features of the Siberian tiger
- Of all the tiger subspecies, the Siberian or Amur tiger is the largest. On average, the male Siberian tiger can grow up to 3m (11 feet) in length from the tip of its nose to the tail. An adult male Amur tiger weighs between 400 and 700 pounds and females between 200 and 300 pounds. The biggest Siberian tiger in captivity weighed 1,025 pounds and measured 12 feet 9.5 inches in length.
- The paw pad of a male measures between 10.5 and 14.5cm and that of a female between 8.5 and 9.5cm.The paw pads are covered with fur which allows the Amur tiger to walk even on frozen surfaces during winter.
- Depending on the season, the length of the fur increases and decreases. During summer, the tiger’s fur is shorter; however, its length increases during winter, which protects the tiger and ensures its survival even in temperatures lower than −20°C. Also, the colour of its stripes is paler than that of other tigers.
Habitat of the Siberian tiger
- The habitat of the Siberian tiger extends from the birch forests of the Russian Far East across China and North Korea. However, this area is steadily decreasing, leading to a decrease in the tiger population.
- On average, a male Amur tiger has almost 400sqkm for itself while the female has around 200sqkm. They have this large habitable range because of their low population density.
- Siberian male tigers are very aggressive when it comes to protecting their territory from other males. Younger male Siberian tigers often fight with an older tiger to carve out a territory for themselves. However, males do share their territory with other females.
Siberian tiger's hunting habits
- Siberian tigers are apex predators. They hunt different species of deer, moose and wild boars. Occasionally, when food is scarce, they also prey on hare, rodents, salmon and small bears.
- They usually hunt during the night. An adult Amur tiger requires about 9kg of meat every day; however, they can even eat up to 50kg at a time.
- The life expectancy of a Siberian tiger is about 16 to 18 years in the wild and up to 25 years in captivity. According to the 2015 census, there were around 480 to 540 Siberian tigers.
Bengal tiger facts
Physical features of the Bengal tiger
- The Royal Bengal tiger’s length varies between 8 and 10 feet for males and 7 and 8.5 feet for females. An adult male can weigh between 397 to 569 pounds and a female between 220 to 350 pounds. It is the second biggest among all the tiger species.
- Due to a genetic anomaly, some Bengal tigers are born white, with blue eyes and black stripes. However, their different colour leads to their rejection or attack by other tigers. So, most white tigers do not survive long in the wild. It is also believed that their white colour proves unhelpful during hunting as they can be easily spotted.
Habitat of the Bengal tiger
They are found in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. They usually live in areas with tall grasses, marshes and tropical rainforests and deciduous forests. In India, the habitat of the Bengal tiger includes the national parks of the Sundarbans, Corbett, Kanha, Sariska, Bandipur, Manas and Ranthambore.
Bengal tiger's hunting habits
- Like other carnivores, the Bengal tiger’s main diet is meat. It hunts various types of deer, water buffaloes, wild boars, bears and crocodiles. Not only are they excellent swimmers but they also have retractable claws which allows them to climb trees and kill birds and langur. Bengal tigers usually hunt at night, as they have excellent night vision. In a year, they hunt between 40 and 50 animals.
- Bengal tigers eat every day and can eat up to 40kg of meat at a time. They eat all the flesh of the animal they have hunted, except the intestines.
- In captivity, the oldest Bengal tiger (Guddu of Kanpur zoo) lived up to the age of 26 years. However, in the wild, the Bengal tiger’s lifespan is between 8 and 10 years. Efforts to increase the population of the Royal Bengal tiger is bearing fruit. In 2018, its population in India had increased to 2,967.
Indochinese tiger facts
Also called the Corbett tiger, the Indochinese tiger is found in Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and China. However, they have not been seen in China since 2007. It is believed that the population of the Indochinese tiger is decreasing faster than other tiger species because of poaching.
Physical features of the Indochinese tiger
- The Indochinese tiger is a medium-sized tiger. The adult males are between 8 and 9.5 feet long and females between 7 and 8.5 feet long. Adult males weigh between 330 and 430 pounds and females between 221 and 287 pounds.
- The coat of the Indochinese tiger is dark orange or golden in colour. But, the stripes are neither as bold as that of the Bengal tiger nor as numerous.
Habitat of the Indochinese tiger
Indochinese tigers prefer to live in the mountains instead of the plains. They like hot and humid broadleaf forests as the dense vegetation provides them with cover to hide and hunt.
The Indochinese tiger's hunting habits
- These tigers usually hunt large and medium-sized mammals like deer, boar, baby rhino, baby elephant, cattle and goat, turtle and fish. They are also known to hunt macaques, porcupines and muntjacs when food becomes scarce.
- Depending on whether they are living in the jungle or in captivity, the lifespan of this species varies between 15 and 26 years. It is estimated that there are between 1,200 and 1,800 Indochinese tigers left in the wild.
Malayan tiger facts
Physical features of the Malayan tiger
This tiger is the national animal of Malaysia. The male Malayan tiger averages 8.5 feet in length and the female around 7 feet 10 inches. The male of the species weighs between 104 and 284.7 pounds and the female between 52 and 195 pounds.
Habitat of the Malayan tiger
It lives in the grasslands, tropical and subtropical broadleaf forests of peninsular Malaysia and south Thailand. This tiger enjoys swimming and can swim across shallow rivers and lakes.
Malayan tiger's hunting habits
- Like other tigers, the Malayan tiger is also a carnivore and the primary predator. It hunts animals like deer, wild boar, water buffalo, baby elephant, bear cubs and, at times, domestic livestock. It also eats rodents, fish, birds, reptiles and primates.
- The hunting habit of the Malayan tiger benefits farmers, as it keeps the population of boars under control, thus preventing damage to plantations.
- The average lifespan of the Malayan tiger is between 15 and 20 years. Considered to be critically endangered, the population of Malayan tigers is decreasing. In the wild, their population is estimated to be between 80 and 120 mature individuals.
Sumatran tiger facts
Physical features of the Sumatran tiger
- Previously, these tigers used to inhabit several parts of the Sunda islands of Indonesia. However, they are now only found in Sumatra. It is the smallest of all the tiger subspecies.
- The average length of an adult male is between 7 and 8 feet and that of the female between 6.5 and 7.5 feet. The weight of a male varies between 220 and 308 pounds and that of a female between 165 and 242 pounds.
- The stripes of a Sumatran tiger is thinner than other tigers. They also have longer fur around their face, which gives the appearance of a mane.
Habitat of the Sumatran tiger
The habitat of the Sumatran tiger is a combination of rivers, tropical rain forests, swamps and lowlands. Because of the presence of water, and slightly webbed paws, the Sumatran tiger is a good swimmer. It can even pursue its prey in water.
Sumatran tiger's hunting habits
- Like other tigers, the Sumatran tiger also hunts animals found in its habitat, which includes the boar, deer, cattle, fish, crocodile and birds. Although smaller than other tigers, the Sumatran tiger is still powerful enough to hunt animals larger than its size.
- It hunts once or twice a week and eats as much as it can. The tiger then covers the remaining carcass with grass or dirt and returns to feed on it later when it feels hungry again.
- The lifespan of the Sumatran tiger is similar to that of the Malayan tiger — between 15 and 20 years in the wild and up to 25 years in captivity. It is believed that fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers are left in the wild.
South China tiger facts
Also called the Chinese tiger or Xiamen tiger, this subspecies is only a little bigger than the Sumatran tiger. It is believed that the South China tiger is the original tiger species from which other subspecies of tigers emerged.
Physical features of the South China tiger
- The male South China tiger reaches a length of 8 feet whereas the females are about 7.5 feet. The male tiger weighs roughly 330 pounds and the female 240 pounds.
- The stripes of the Xiamen tiger are broader than other tigers and are spaced apart more.
Habitat of the South China tiger
The South China tiger inhabited the dense temperate forests of southeastern China. It enjoys spending time in water, is a good swimmer and can also hunt in water.
The South China tiger's hunting habits
- Its main prey includes wild boar, deer and cattle. A South China tiger can eat between 18 and 40kg of meat at a time, depending on its size.
- The lifespan of this species in the wild is up to 15 years. In captivity, they can live up to 20 years.
- Also called the Chinese tiger, this animal has not been spotted in the wild for the past few years and is believed to be extinct. Only a few of them remain alive in captivity.
Tiger: Nature and habits
- Tigers are solitary by nature. They like to live in places where it is hard to spot them. However, they do visit the waterhole or stay by its side during hot days.
- Tigers are highly territorial and mark their area by spraying urine. They also rub their paws on trees to leave claw marks and secretions from the glands in their paws. They patrol their territory to assert control and evict any intruder, especially younger male tigers.
- They do not collaborate with other tigers for hunting and prefer to do it alone, usually during dusk or at night. Tigers stalk their prey and try to get as close to it as possible. Once close enough, they ambush the prey either from behind or the side to knock it off balance. They use their forelegs to latch on to the prey and then sink their powerful canines into the prey’s neck to asphyxiate it.
- An adult tiger has 30 teeth, of which the incisors are used to grab and kill the prey, and remove the flesh from the bone. The molars are used for chewing.
- Tigers are averse to sharing. So, they hide the leftover of their prey with leaves or dirt, or drag it to a place where it would be safe from other meat eaters.
- Tigers have meticulous eating habits. A tiger’s tongue is rough like sandpaper as it is covered with sharp, hook-like structures called papillae. It uses its tongue to strip the flesh clean of blood before beginning to eat.
Tiger: Social structure
- Because adult tigers are solitary animals, mapping their social structure isn’t easy. While the males aren’t willing to share their territory with other males, a female tiger’s territory overlaps that of one or multiple males.
- Based on observation, it has been found that, at times, a tiger would willingly share its prey with another tiger that it is related to, or with females that bear its cubs. The tiger may also allow its cubs and their mother to feed first on the prey. So, males and females do show a certain degree of tolerance towards each other.
- But, as cubs, tigers do socialise with their siblings and their mother through feeding, playing and sleeping together. Usually, a tigress bears 3 to 4 cubs. They stay with their mother until they are 18 to 24 months old. By this time, they learn how to hunt on their own. And, around the age of 3, they move away to establish their own territory.
- Although tigers are loners, they do communicate with each other. They use sounds like roaring, snarling, growling, purring, moaning, soft groans and prusten.
- Tigers also use their body to communicate by lashing their tail, twisting their ears, baring their teeth, narrowing their eyes or keeping them wide open.
- They also rub their bodies against each other to exchange scents and introduce themselves to each other.
Health problems in tigers
Being blessed with a huge physique and immense strength doesn’t mean that tigers do not suffer from illnesses. In fact, they suffer from the same illnesses that a domestic cat suffers from.
Some of the diseases and health issues that affect tigers are:
- Rabies: An incurable disease, a tiger contracts rabies when it is bitten by another rabid animal.
- Canine distemper: Tigers get this viral infection by eating infected dogs or from other animals. It is a fatal disease that produces symptoms of fever, seizures, diarrhoea and laboured breathing. Canine distemper has been identified as one of the biggest threats to the tiger population in India.
- Feline AIDS (caused by the feline immunodeficiency virus or FIV): Feline AIDS spreads from the bite of an infected animal. This disorder weakens the immune system of a tiger, making it susceptible to other diseases and infections. However, feline AIDS is curable.
- Feline leukaemia (caused by feline leukaemia virus or FeLV): An infection with this virus can give rise to several health issues like cancer, anaemia, liver disorders, respiratory infections and so on. In fact, feline leukaemia is responsible for the death of most tigers.
- Tick-borne diseases: Tick bites can also make a tiger fall sick and die. Protozoan parasites transmitted by ticks can cause problems like haemorrhagic enteritis and ascites.
- Cattle tuberculosis: While this form of tuberculosis usually affects herbivores like goats, camels, pigs, horses and squirrels, even tigers can get infected with the disease.
There are several reasons for the decline in the number of tigers — from poaching to illegal wildlife trade to depletion of forests and prey loss to diseases to poor genetic diversity to man−animal conflict.
But, governments worldwide are actively working with civilian groups to protect the tiger and prevent it from becoming extinct. And, these efforts are being rewarded as the tiger population is gradually increasing.
In 1975, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) came into force. It is an agreement signed by 175 nations to protect endangered animals and plants. Globally, the tiger is protected by this agreement.The Global Tiger Day (also called the International Tiger Day) is celebrated every year on July 29 to create awareness about protecting the tiger.
In India, to save tigers, the government started the Project Tiger in 1973. Revised guidelines were issued in 2008.
In 2006, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) was constituted to conserve tigers. Several steps have been taken to strengthen the infrastructure in tiger reserves, improve water structures, increase patrolling and reduce man-animal conflict. Eight new tiger reserves are also being established.
Tiger in literature and movies
Tigers have always fascinated humans. Reading tiger stories by Jim Corbett and Rudyard Kipling makes us understand that this striped beast not only rules the jungle but also asserts his supremacy over the human psyche. For, the tiger exemplifies diverse feelings and varied qualities — from awe to fear to honourable to wily.
Some of the stories where the tiger is one of the main characters are:
- A Tiger for Malgudi (by RK Narayan)
- The Tiger Who Came to Tea (by Judith Kerr)
- Tigger the tiger from Winnie the Pooh series (by AA Milne)
- Life of Pi (by Yann Martel)
- Calvin and Hobbes (comic strip)
Movies on tiger:
- Two brothers
- A tiger walks
- The Tiger: An Old Hunter's Tale
- The Truth About Tigers
- India: Kingdom of the Tiger
Save tigers — why it’s a must
Tigers are an important part of the ecosystem. However, they are now considered as endangered/critically endangered animals. So, why should saving tigers become a priority?
Being the primary predators, together with other carnivores, tigers keep the population of herbivores under control by hunting them. An unchecked increase in the number of herbivores would lead to an increase in the consumption of vegetation and a decrease in the forest cover.
Degradation of the earth’s green cover can cause environmental and climatic changes such as diminished rainfall, more soil erosion and carbon emission.
Thus, the tiger plays a big role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem and ensuring the survival of all forms of life.
About the author:
Written by Arun Sharma on 6 December 2019
The author was associated with the healthcare industry before becoming a full-time writer and editor. A doting father to two preteens, he believes in experiential learning for his children. Also, he loves mountain trekking and nature trips.
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