ORDER: Carnivora

FAMILY: Felidae

GENUS: Panthera

SPECIES: tigris


Head/body length: 5’10”- 9’1”; tail length: 36”; weight: 350-550 pounds; shoulder height three feet or less. Eyes are large with excellent vision. Hearing is good with well developed ear flaps. They have large canine teeth and strong, powerful jaws. Paws are heavily padded; claws are retractable. Coloration is bright fawn to reddish tan, shading to white underneath, and sharply marked with uneven black stripes: a unique pattern for each individual. Fur is short and thick. Whiskers (vibrissae) are long with thick individual hairs. Oakland Zoo actively supports the Saving Wild Tigers project.


Found throughout India from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin, except in the deserts. (Other races are found in Burma, Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Java, and Bali.) Preferred habitats include dense thickets, long grass, or tamarisk shrubs along river banks. Some seem to have special fondness for cover in old ruins.


Carnivorous. Diet varies according to locality. Prefers deer, wild pigs, young buffalo, young elephants and cattle ––in general, any prey over 100 pounds in weight. But when driven by hunger will eat almost anything: fowl, fish, lizards, frogs, crocodiles, carrion, or even humans, on occasion. Hunting method is a slow patient stalk through cover until close enough for the final spring. For prey less than half a tiger’s weight, the killing bite is delivered to the nape of the neck. For larger prey, a throat bite is preferred. Tigers are heavier predators than lions, and average about 50 deer each, per year. Only one hunt in 20 is successful. Man-eating and cattle-killing are usually attributed to older tigers, injured tigers, or young adults unable to leave an over-crowded territory. Oakland Zoo feeds Feline Diet (beef fortified with ground bone, vitamins and minerals) and occasionally whole carcasses.


Usually solitary, but occasionally travels in parties of 3 or 4 (probably mother with sub-adult children or an estrous female and suitors). Both sexes mark territories but a male’s territory will overlap several females’ territories. Tigers are polyestrous but most commonly conceive after the monsoon rains; the majority of cubs are born between February and May after a gestation of three and a half months. Cubs weigh under three pounds at birth and are striped. Eyes open in 15-16 days. Litter consists of 1-4 cubs, occasionally up to 6, but it is unusual for more than two or three to survive. Cubs are weaned at 4-6 months but depend on their mother for food and protection for another two years. Females bear single litters every 2-3 years. New males entering a female’s territory may eat cubs. There is some evidence that females permit their daughters to take over their home ranges and there have been verified reports of rather large groups of tigers (up to 9) feeding at a single kill. In one case, the additional tigers were offspring from several litters of the one who had made the kill. Maximum longevity is about 26 years.


The white ear spots may enable mothers and cubs to keep track of each other in the dim forests at night. Unlike conspecific leopards, tigers take advantage of human-made trails and roads. They are excellent swimmers.


The stiff whiskers enable a tiger to move through thick cover at night. If the whiskers fit, the whole body can follow.


2 Females. Our two females (born in 1989 and 1997) came here in April of 1999 from the Sterling and Reed Brothers Circus. When not performing, they had been housed in 3’ x 6’ enclosures.


Endangered. They have been hunted heavily by man for sport, skins, and as a source of traditional medical products. Superstition has surrounded tigers for centuries; necklets of claws are thought to protect a child from “the evil eye”, whiskers have been considered either a dreadful poison (Malaysia), a powerful aphrodisiac (Indonesia), or an aid to childbirth (India and Pakistan) and the bones, fat, liver and penis are prized as aphrodisiacs or medicines. The main tiger population of the Indian subcontinent has suffered a serious decline in the last 50 years. It is estimated that some 200 tigers yet survive in Nepal, and perhaps 4000 in India, up from a low of 2000 in the 1970s. A government program, called Project Tiger, established nine sanctuaries designed to provide ample habitat and prey. However, small isolated parks may promote inbreeding and the future of the Bengal tiger is still in question. In the 90s, there has been a resurgence of poaching for the escalating Chinese and Korean markets, in spite of a Chinese ban on tiger products in 1993 and South Korea’s joining of CITES.

  1. Nowak, Ronald and John Paradiso. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World, Volume II (4th edition). John Hopkins Univ. Press, Baltimore and London.
  2. Sunquist, Fiona & Mel Sunquist. 1988. Tiger Moon. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  3. World Wildlife Find, Inc. 1993. in “Focus” Vol.15, No. 6, Nov./Dec. ‘93.

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