One of the most striking members of the feline family is the tiger, who sports a beautiful red-gold coat with distinctive black stripes, covering an incredibly powerful muscular body.
The tiger is the largest member of the cat family. There are six subspecies living in pockets of forest in Asia. In the largest subspecies, the Siberian, males can weigh up to 300 kg. Males from the smallest subspecies, the Sumatran, will weigh in at tops 140 kg. Females are smaller than males.
Their golden-red fur is covered with vertical black stripes. Each tiger has its own personal unique pattern. The stripes help camouflage the tigers as they prowl in the forest. Under their jaw, on their face and on their belly, they have patches and stripes of white fur. They have yellow eyes and a pink nose. Coarse white whiskers grow on either side of their face. Their ears are rounded, and each ear has a white circle at the back with a black dot in the middle resembling an extra pair of eyes. White tigers are rare – just one out of every 10,000 is born in the wild.
Tigers are fearsome predators. They are meat-eaters and hunt mainly medium- to large-sized animals, such as deer, wild boar and water buffalo; though they will hunt smaller animals if necessary. They can go without food for up to two weeks and will then gorge on a large meal. They can eat 40 kg of meat in one sitting!
Tigers hunt by sneaking up on their prey, ambushing it with a giant leap, knocking it over with their great weight and then grabbing it by the throat with their powerful jaws and long sharp teeth.
Unusually among cats, the tiger is a great swimmer. They can swim up to 29 km a day, and can cross wide, fast-flowing rivers. They enjoy bathing in water to cool down. They have also been known to hunt in water.
Tigers are generally solitary animals, except for mothers and their young. Tiger cubs develop inside their mom for just over three months. They are born in a den, for example, inside a cave or a tree hollow. Two to four cubs are born in each litter. They are born blind and are completely helpless at first. They nurse from their mother for the first three to six months. Once they are weaned, they start to leave the den with their mother and she teaches them to hunt. They are independent at 18 months but will stay with their family until they are over two years old.
Tigers are endangered animals. They have lost most of their habitat and have been hunted for their beautiful fur.
Some good news: World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) estimated last year that there are 3,890 wild tigers, up from 3,200 in 2010. This is the first increase in tiger numbers in a century! WWF is working to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022, which will be the Year of the Tiger.