Wow. It’s been just over three years since I last posted on this blog. I am so very excited to be bringing it back and posting new content again! I also want to point out that publishing this on February 20th was not random – today is actually the eight year anniversary of Our Wild World! Celebrate with me by reading this post, liking, sharing and if you want to join our community, you can join the Our Wild World Facebook group!

Trying to pick an animal to be the first critter back was no easy feat. In general, I try and pick weird animals that people may not have heard of, but every now and then I blog about a common enough animal and try and highlight some interesting facts about it. So for my first post back I thought I’d choose the majestic tiger. There’s probably no better known big cat out there, but how much do you really know about tigers?

A map of historical and current tiger ranges – habitat fragmentation is a serious problem for tigers. Image by Sanderson, E., Forrest, J., Loucks, C., Ginsberg, J., Dinerstein, E., Seidensticker, J., Leimgruber, P., Songer, M., Heydlauff, A., O’Brien, T., Bryja, G., Klenzendorf, S., Wikramanayake, E., CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Though there is only one species of tiger, Panthera tigris, there are a number of subspecies. Exactly how many is debatable, but most recent studies have classified tigers into two subspecies, one that includes mainland tiger populations, and one that includes the Javan, Bali and Sumatran tiger populations. 

Tigers are the largest of the big cats, with male Siberian tigers reaching lengths of 3.7 meters and weights over 300 kilograms. Those are some big kitties! Their teeth are equally large, with tiger canines reaching lengths of nine centimetres. These are the longest canines of any living cat. 

Tigers are famously orange with black stripes, and there’s some cool hypotheses as to why this might be. First off, the stripes help break up the tiger’s silhouette in long tall grasses, which helps these enormous cats stalk prey. But why the orange colour? Well, since the prey tigers hunt mostly see in just two colours, their prey may see tigers as green, further helping tigers blend into their surroundings. I’m just realizing as I write this that human hunters wear orange so other hunters can see them, but deer can’t perceive the colour, so the bright colour doesn’t give them away to their targets. I guess tigers thought of this way before we did! 

Tigers have two white spots on the back of their ears, and though the exact function of them is unknown, one thought is that the spots look a bit like eyes, helping scare off any creature foolhardy enough to attack a tiger from behind. Another possible explanation for their pretty little white spots is much cuter: they may help tiger cubs follow their mother through dense underbrush. 

Despite being cats, have no problem with water, and will easily cross rivers of seven kilometres, and have been known to swim 29 kilometres in a day. Image credit: Mathias Appel, Public Domain from Flickr

I think it’s pretty well known that tigers are big, strong cats, but what they can do is truly impressive. They can reach speeds of up to 65 km/hr for short bursts, and can leap an astounding 10 meters horizontally. They are excellent swimmers and climbers; and can drag massive carcasses around with relative ease (in one such instance thirteen men couldn’t move a carcass a tiger had dragged twelve meters). All this leaves us with the question: is there anything tigers can’t do? 

The primary prey of tigers are medium sized animals such as sambar deer, wapiti, and wild boar. They will feed on smaller animals when they can get them, and also take down much bigger prey. They are ambush predators, stalking and then leaping on prey, before latching onto the unfortunate victim’s throat and strangling it. This allows tigers to take down prey much larger than themselves — animals weighing over a ton have been brought down by solitary tigers, a feat not attempted regularly by any other land predator. 

Like many other cat species, tigers are generally solitary, establishing home ranges and coming together only to mate. Female tigers give birth to an average of two to three cubs, who are weaned after five to six months. They stick around their mom for much longer, learning how to hunt and navigate their world until they are around 18 to 20 months of age. 

Though tigers are rightfully terrifying, with their big teeth and claws, and undeniably impressive athletic feats, they tend to actively avoid people. There are, however, a number of notable cases where tigers have attacked people, and some where tigers have started hunting people as prey. These ‘man-eating’ (many of their victims are women and children, so this is not the best phrase to use) tigers tend to be old or injured, living in areas where humans have forced them out of their preferred habitats and limited their natural prey. 

They may look soft and cuddly, but tigers are built athletes. Image credit: John K Thorne, Public Domain from Flickr

One extremely famous tiger, known as the Champawat Tiger, had two broken canines (thought to have been shot off by a tiger hunter — oh the irony) and was responsible for 430 human deaths, the most deaths attributed to a wild animal. I read a book about her and the man who finally ended her life after her killing spree started, called No Beast So Fierce by Dane Huckelbridge. It wasn’t my favourite book, but it was an interesting read and the story is a fascinating one. One has to admire the resilience and endurance of a tiger who was able to avoid being captured or killed while actively hunting people for so long. 

Tigers have been subject to massive hunts, as a sport and because they were a nuisance to the humans who started raising livestock in their habitats. They have also been extensively hunted for their skin and body parts. These hunts, as well as habitat loss have led to extreme population declines. There is good news, however: in 2016 the estimated population of wild tigers was 3,890 – this was declared to be the first time the population of wild tigers had risen in a century. Conservation efforts are ongoing, with protected habitat reserves established in many of the countries tigers inhabit. 

There’s so much more to learn and know about tigers, but this post has already been a long one! The important thing to remember is that tigers are super large, super strong, and super fast. And they have great big pointy teeth. So leave them alone, and admire them in pictures and videos. Because they definitely deserve to be admired! 

Cover image by Mathias Appel, Public Domain from Flickr