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Mammals - Siberian Tiger

Region: Eurasia

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Felidae

Genus: Panthera

Scientific Name: Panthera tigris altaica

Description: This species is the largest of all cats. It is a massively built animal with a rounded head, muscular body, powerful limbs, especially the forearm and shoulder which enables it to overpower a prey larger than itself. The tail is usually slightly shorter than half the head and body length. Ears small and rounded. Old males have massive forequarters and huge heads. The muzzle is relatively broader than in other tiger species. Large canine teeth. Length of head and body: 1.8 - 2.8 m Length of tail: 0.9 m Weight: 180 - 306 kg males; 100 - 167 kg females

Distribution: Southeastern Siberia and Manchuria.

Habitat: Reeds and bushes in river valleys, mountain taiga and mixed forests traversed by rivers with rock outcroppings. In summer they live at altitudes of up to 1200 m; in winter they move to lower altitudes.

Food: The Siberian tiger's diet consists of deer, wild pig and occasionally fish. If its chief prey is lacking, it feeds on carrion and catches birds, small mammals, turtles and insects. In summer they also eat grass, cedar nuts, fruits and berries.

Skin/Color/Coat: The summer coat is fairly short and smooth and a tawny gold in colour. The winter coat is very full and long and a more pale yellowish colour. The stripes are brown in colour and less numerous.

Vocalization: It is thought that tigers roar to announce a kill and to attract the opposite sex. Vocal calls of tigers include startled ‘woofs”, roars during mating, rasping grunts by tigress to call young, purring and soft grunts of puffing sounds. The tiger also communicates by marking with urine, feces and scratches.

Reproduction and Development: There is no particular mating season. They reproduce once in 2 or 3 years. Tigers are solitary and only come together to mate. They may remain together for 5 or 6 days after which the male moves off. After a gestation period of three to three and a half months, she delivers a litter of two to four kittens, in a well protected den, which may be a natural cave, a rocky crevice or dense vegetation (pits left by overturned trees). The kittens are born blind and will open their eyes at about two weeks. Newborns weigh 780 - 1600 g. The female tiger feeds the cubs until they reach five to six months of age. At this time they are able to go with her on hunting trips. At one year of age, the cubs are able to hunt for themselves. The cubs continue to stay with their mother until they are three to five years old. They will leave to find their own territories and mates. Sexual maturity is attained in the fourth year. Only about 50% of the cubs survive beyond 2 years. Lifespan is 26 years both in the wild and in captivity.

Adaptations: Tigers are mostly nocturnal, but in the northern regions they are also active during the day. They are cryptically coloured for the habitat. The black lines serve to break up their body shape in tall grasslands. They are seldom found far from rivers or other water sources. They swim well and enjoy launching in the water on hot days. Tigers are well equipped for hunting. They are extremely flexible. This flexibility is caused by the fact that the bones are attached to the muscles and tendons without strong ligaments. Their keen eyesight picks up even the slightest movement. The tiger's large, cup- shaped ears focus sounds, making its hearing very sensitive. A tiger's long, stiff whiskers are used as feelers to help it maneuver through twigs and branches in the dark. The tiger's sense of smell is also excellent. Siberian tigers have long sharp retractable claws for catching and holding prey. The claws are pulled into a protective sheath to prevent them from becoming worn down while walking on rocks or hard ground, keeping them very sharp. Characterized by extreme strength, agility and endurance, they move noiselessly making daily marches of up to 80 km. The tiger stalks its prey, steals up from behind or from the side, then attacks in several large leaps of 5 - 7 m and 2 m high, trying to simultaneously throw it down and grab its throat. Killing is by strangulation or a bite to the back of the neck. The carcass is often dragged to an area within cover or near water to hide it from other predators. The Siberian tiger needs to eat at least 9-10 kg (20 lbs.) of meat a day to survive the cold climate of its environment. The tiger can eat up to 45 kg (100 lbs.) of meat at one meal. Only one hunt out of 10 is successful. When food is available and the tiger remains unmolested, it stays in its selected region. It marks and patrols its territory and avoids fights. Normal range is 500 - 400 square km, established for life.

Threats: Pressures from illegal killing, or poaching, and habitat loss. Tiger body parts are in high demand in all of Asia for fur and medicines, putting the Siberian tiger in serious danger of extinction.

Status: Endangered

References: Cavendish, Marshal, Endangered Wildlife of the World, Volume 9, N.Y., 1993 Grzimek, Bernhard: 1975 Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol XII, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., N.Y. Guggisberg, C.A.W.;Wild Cats of the World, David & Charles (Holding), 1975 Hornocker, Maurice; National Geographic, February, 1997 Novikow, G.A., 1962 Carnivorous Mammals of the Fauna of the USSR, Israel Programme for Scientific Translations, Jerusalem Nowak, Ronald, M., Walker’s Mammals of the World, Fifth Edition, Vol. 2, 1991.