Tigers once lived across large stretches of Asia, but their numbers have dwindled to an estimated 4,500. Today, they can be found in Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Russia, and Thailand. WWF says anecdotal information suggests they are still living in Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, too. However, they now cover less than a tenth of their historic range.
Despite their decreased numbers, they’re found in many types of habitat, including colder northern regions, forests, tropical rainforests, mangrove swamps, and grasslands.
These majestic big cats are honored each July on International Tiger Day, held on the 29. To mark the occasion, learn some facts about them!
As with any apex predator, the presence of tigers helps the ecosystems in which they live. They prey on animals that, in abundance, would overgraze and harm the habitat. Research has also found that secured tiger landscapes can help protect watersheds and boost carbon sequestration in forests. Tigers can boost economies by bringing in tourists that want to see the big cats, as well.
They’re Farmers’ Buddies
While neighboring predators can sometimes lead to livestock loss, a study actually found that farmers benefit from tigers in the neighborhood. This is because the presence of tigers causes smaller predators like leopards and dholes to steer clear of them and stick closer to farmland, where they eat animals like deer and pigs that can damage crops. In areas without tigers, these smaller predators stay further away from the farmland, leaving higher numbers of the crop damagers.
They May Have Eyes in the Back of Their Heads
We always joke that moms have eyes in the back of their heads, but tiger cubs can actually say that. Tigers have white spots, surrounded by black, on the back of their ears. These may be used to communicate with cubs to let them know there’s danger, but there’s also a theory that the spots appear as false eyes, which can make would-be attackers think twice about surprising the tiger from behind.
Their Front-Facing Eyes Are Pretty Good, Too
Tigers have very strong night vision. In fact, it’s estimated that they can see at night about six times better than people. This is helped along by the fact that they have more rods than cones. Rods help with vision in low light, while cones detect color.
There Are Six Subspecies
There are six subspecies of tiger that are currently living: the Amur, Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, South China, and Sumatran tigers. The South China tiger, however, is believed to have gone extinct in the wild and can only be found in captivity. The Amur tiger, also known as the Siberian tiger, is the largest, measuring in at up to 10 feet long from nose to tail and weighing up to 600-plus pounds. Bengals are the most common, accounting for more than half of the current tiger population.
Their Stripes Play an Important Role for Them
When you’re on the prowl for prey, blending in is helpful, and a tiger’s spots help it do just that. They do most of their hunting at dawn and dusk, during which the shadows in the long grasses resemble their stripes.
They Can Eat Some Pretty Big Game
When they’re on the prowl, tigers can have a varied menu. Their standard fare is animals like deer, wild boars, and other ungulates, but they’re capable to taking down some bigger game, including elephant calves. They’ll enjoy a good chunk of that kill, too, as they can eat around 80 pounds in one sitting.
They Each Have Their Own Stripe Pattern
Tigers may not be as delicate and fragile as a snowflake, but there is something the two have in common: completely unique patterns. A tiger’s stripes are uniquely theirs, which helps scientists studying them pick out individuals. This can aid in population estimates and in trying to figure out where each tiger lives.
They Just Keep Swimming
Domestic cats are known to steer clear of any water, but tigers are a bit different. They often head to the water to cool down and get some hydration in warmer areas, and they’re pretty strong swimmers. They can cross waterbodies five miles wide.
They Face Threats
As their dwindling numbers indicate, tigers are endangered. This is due to poaching, climate change, direct conflict with humans, retaliation killings for livestock loss, and loss of prey and habitat due to human encroachment stemming from both agriculture and urban sprawl. For example, Wildlife Conservation Society research has found that humans are behind 75-85% of Amur tiger deaths.
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