Range:

Small pockets of Asia

Habitat:

Tropical rain forest, snow-covered coniferous and deciduous forests, mangrove swamps, and drier forest areas

Black and white and orange all over

The beautiful, striped coat and that powerful, mesmerizing gaze make the tiger one of the world’s most revered animals. It’s a reverence that’s mixed with a bit of fear, an appropriate reaction to a large, well-muscled, swift hunter with inch-long claws and 3-inch-long (7 centimeter) canine teeth. The tiger is a stalk-and-ambush hunter, and the distinctive stripes are good camouflage in the long grass or wooded forests of their diverse habitat. Dark stripes on a pale background break up the tiger’s outline as it lies in wait for prey to come near.

Tigers can also be black with tan stripes, all white (albino), or white and tan. The “white tigers” found in some zoos are not albino but rather the white-and-tan color variation with blue eyes (true albinos have pink eyes).

Six types of tigers

There are currently six subspecies of tigers, each living in different habitats: flooded mangrove forests, arid forests, tropical forests, and taiga. The different subspecies are found in small areas of Asia, India, and Russia. The largest subspecies lives in snowy areas of Russia. The smallest and darkest subspecies is found farther south, in the jungles of Indonesia. Female tigers are always smaller than males.

Amur or Siberian tiger— The largest of the tiger subspecies, males can be as long as a station wagon! These tigers also have the palest orange coat and the fewest stripes, to help it blend in with its snow-covered habitat. As it lives in a very cold climate, the Siberian tiger’s coat grows longer and thicker than other tiger subspecies, and it develops a layer of fat for insulation. There are less than 400 Siberian tigers left in their home range of eastern Russia and northeastern China.

Bengal or Indian tiger— This is the most common subspecies of tiger and is almost as large as the Siberian tiger. Fewer than 2,500 Bengal tigers remain in their native habitat of India, Nepal, and Pakistan.

Indochinese tiger— These tigers are about 20 percent smaller and are darker than Bengal tigers. Less than 2,500 Indochinese tigers are believed left in the wild of Southeast Asia.

Malayan tiger— This is the subspecies you’ll see at the San Diego Zoo. In the wild, only about 1,400 Malayan tigers remain, found on the Malay Peninsula.

Sumatran tiger— Even though the Sumatran is the smallest tiger subspecies, it’s still a pretty big cat. Imagine a tiger the same length as a school cafeteria table! Its orange coat is darker than other subspecies, as it is native to dark jungle habitat on the island of Sumatra; the sides of the face have longer fur, perhaps as protection against jungle plants. The Safari Park has a small group of Sumatran tigers, but in the wild there are less than 400 remaining.

South China tiger— These tigers are slightly smaller than the Indochinese subspecies. In the 1950s, the Chinese government ordered that these tigers be destroyed because they were viewed as pests. Today, it is believed that the South China tiger is most likely extinct in the wild.

Each tiger has its very own stripe pattern. Researchers who observe tigers can identify individuals by their unique stripes.
Tigers have white spots on the backs of their ears. This may be a visual cue for tigers looking for other tigers, or it may be a way for mothers to keep their cubs in sight in the dense forest undergrowth.
Some cats do like water—and tigers are among them! On a hot, steamy day in the Asian forest, tigers take to the river to cool off. In colder climates, they enjoy the snow.
A tiger’s confrontational roar contains energy in the infrasonic range, below human hearing. This helps the sound carry over long distances.
Tigers are strong enough to kill prey that weighs nearly four times their own weight.
A tiger’s night vision is six times better than a human’s.
The Amur or Siberian tiger needs to eat over 20 pounds (9 kilograms) of meat a day and can consume over 100 pounds (45 kilograms) in one meal.
Tigers earn their stripes for their own kind of strength: they can carry something twice their own body weight 10 feet (3 meters) up a tree.

Mesmerizing and gorgeous, but also endangered, our tigers are always a pleasure to watch. Over the years, we have had over 100 Bengal, Siberian, Sumatran, and Malayan tigers born at our two facilities. The San Diego Zoo is currently home to Malayan tiger Connor. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is home to six Sumatran tigers: adult male Teddy, adult female Delta and brothers Conrad and Thomas, born in 2012, and sisters Joanne and Majel, born in 2010.

A famous white tiger
Our most famous tiger was Blanca, the white Bengal tiger who came to the San Diego Zoo after being confiscated as a cub by the U. S. Customs Service—she was traveling from San Diego to Mexico in the back seat of someone's car! While her owners explained to officials that the cat was returning to a private zoo in Mexico, young Blanca (she was under three months old at the time) was romping in the back seat and peering out the car's windows. Because special permits are required to transport tigers, the tiger cub was confiscated. However, with no facilities to keep a tiger, the Customs Service temporarily relocated the cub to the San Diego Zoo's own Children's Zoo, where she soon became a favorite of guests and employees.

In March 1992, she officially became part of the Zoo family and appeared in the Zoo's Animal Chit-Chat shows. In 1996, she moved to the Safari Park, where she continued to thrive and delight guests with her unusual beauty until her passing in 2012.

Tiger care
Tigers at the Zoo and Safari Park receive a hearty meat-based diet, imaginative enrichment items, and basic behavioral training for husbandry. For example, our tigers are taught to “rise up” on their hind legs to allow staff to inspect their bellies and paws, they learn to open their mouths so we can ensure their teeth are healthy, and they accept blood draws from the base of their tail for laboratory analysis. All this minimizes stress on the animals in the long run, since they do not have to be tranquilized for a trip to the veterinary hospital for every health issue.

Scent is also important to tigers, and it is sometimes used as enrichment, keeping the cats engaged in their environment. Scents include donated perfumes and different herbs and spices, which are dabbed onto burlap sacks or sprinkled in their bedrooms, and the cats joyfully roll around on the scents for hours.

A new exhibit in the works
The Safari Park is planning to build an exciting new state-of-the-art tiger habitat that will feature forest clearings, tiger viewing areas, and a pool for the cool cats. The new area will also play an integral role in the conservation of Sumatran tigers. We have had 23 Sumatran tigers born at the Park. Scientists estimate this tiger subspecies could be extinct in their native Sumatra by 2020 unless drastic measures are taken to protect and preserve them. The new exhibit will open in May 2014.

Tiger cures?
There are six subspecies of tiger living today, all highly endangered due to human hunting and encroachment on their forest habitat. To people of many cultures, the tiger is a symbol of strength and courage. But if tigers are so admired, why are they endangered? For many years, tigers have been hunted for their fur and other body parts, some of which are used in native medicines. In some cultures, people hunt tigers for sport or to demonstrate their own bravery. Tiger hunting continues today because the body parts can be sold for a lot of money. Several traditional medicines use tiger parts as a cure for all kinds of illnesses, from pimples to toothaches. These “cures” have never been proven to be effective.

Tigers also suffer from habitat loss. When people move into areas where tigers live, tigers are forced into smaller and smaller areas where there may not be enough food for the big cats to survive.

Help for tigers
Tiger researchers estimate that there are no more than 5,000 tigers in the world. But there is a lot of work being done to make sure that tigers will survive. In the early 1970s, India began passing laws against killing tigers. Since then, other countries with wild tigers have passed similar laws. Many countries around the world, including the US, have passed laws to stop the sale of products made from tiger parts. International projects exist that help protect wild tiger habitat. Zoos help tigers through breeding programs and by teaching people around the world about these cats.

You can help us bring species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.