It is better to live for one day as a tiger, than to live for a thousand years as a sheep.
- Tibetan Proverb.
Tigers are large orangey-blacky-white stripey cats, though they do not make nearly as good pets as their smaller feline cousins. The largest carnivorous land mammal, the tiger has long since been seen as a model of strength and grace. There are five major species of tiger in the world currently, these being the Bengal (or Indian), Indochine, Sumatran, South China and Siberian (or Amur-White) and each of these magnificent beasts is as wonderful as the next. Relatives include the lion, jaguar, puma, leopard, ocelot, cheetah and mangy tom.
Where Do Tigers Live?
The tiger has lived in the wild throughout various regions of the world, however most are now located within India, Nepal and Tibet, Siberia, South China, Sumatra in Indonesia and much of South East Asia.
The favoured environment of the tiger is one of forest, where they can hide in amongst trees, tall grasses and thick undergrowth in order to stalk prey. The tiger will live in a den of some sort; either a cave or a sheltered spot amongst some rocks or tall grass. The animal will maintain a large territory; some tigers have been known to stroll around regions as vast as the country of Wales1. While tigers are naturally solitary, they will communicate through the use of scent marking and roaring, including friendly grunting called prusten when searching for a mate.
Despite their unsuitability for domestic life, some tigers are kept in houses2, but the majority of these have been 'rendered harmless' by being made into rugs or having their heads cut off and mounted on wooden plaques which are then hung on the wall3.
What Do Tigers Eat?
Tigers, like any carnivore, eat meat, lots of meat. In the wild they hunt unsuspecting deer, wild boar and even buffalo. It may seem strange that an animal that is bright orange in colour would be able to hide from its prey, however while the tiger has full colour vision - on the most part its meals do not. Because of this it can camouflage itself in bush before pouncing upon its dinner. Having large, sharp retractable claws helps in catching a meal, then a jaw comprising 30 teeth, including four large canines, makes eating the fresh kill a relatively simple process.
Tigers like to eat anything that is meat. On the most part they feast upon small deer (chital or sambal), or water buffalo. They also like a quick snack to take the edge off, 'elevenses' if you like, and this is usually a passing monkey, frogs or even fish. Tigers have been known to hunt humans, however in most cases this is because the animal is either old or injured and cannot hunt its usual prey.
What Do Tigers Do In Their Spare Time?
Tigers enjoy a wide range of recreational activities such as swimming4 and splashing about in the water. They also like to play chasing games and sunbathe. In common with the domestic cat, the tiger also loves to take 'siestas', especially the ones in zoos and safari parks, which tend to sleep so much that you might wonder if they're stuffed5. It is known that tigers rarely explore other leisure pursuits, such as cricket or parchisi.
The Tiger in Mythology
Throughout most of Asia, the tiger has an important role in local beliefs, folklore and superstition.
- In certain parts of India and China parents would tell children if they misbehaved the 'Tiger Woman' would eat them.
- Korean mythology tells of the mountain god Hwanung who seated himself on the back of a tiger or bear, both animals would beg the god to transform them into men.
- In Hindu mythology the goddess Durga is said to ride a tiger and other tiger gods include the Warli (Western Indian) 'Vaghadeva'.
- Chinese Horoscopes also incorporate the animal, with anyone born in the year of the tiger apparently being indecisive and quick to temper.
However, with such an impressive creature the stories and tales from around the globe are many.
Hey, I Know A Tiger...
It's very rare that someone has never seen a representation of a tiger, they are very popular animals. The tiger is common in many 'pop' culture images due to this. Many tigers seem to have inherent comic talents, starring in children's stories or comic books and even animated cartoons. There are the likes of Winnie the Pooh's friend Tigger, and Calvin's counterpart, Hobbes. Others use their dramatic countenance for more serious roles such as Shere Khan - leading player in Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book. Some tigers lend their face or stripes to advertising, the most familiar being Tony the Tiger, who advocates a certain breakfast cereal as being "GRRRRReat!!".
The Sporting Tiger
The tiger has long been seen as brave, strong, fierce, unstoppable and pretty darn terrific thank you very much. For this reason many sporting teams have adopted the tiger stripes and name in representing them on the field of play. The Leicester Tigers of England are amongst one of the most successful Rugby Union teams, supplying the England side with many players. Other sports include Australian Rules Football, where the Richmond Tigers maul competitors on occasion. American Football has the Cincinnati Bengals, there is the Major League Baseball team the Detroit Tigers and even the golfer 'Tiger' Woods.
Unfortunately, the tiger species as a whole is in considerable danger of becoming extinct. Some species, such as the Bali tiger6, the Caspian tiger7 and the Javan tiger8 have disappeared into the history books. Due to cultural beliefs9, economic reasons10 and fear, the tiger has been hunted and killed to near extinction. Various measures have been put in place to avert this occurrence like nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries, however by the beginning of the 21st century the world tiger population has dwindled to a tiny number in regional habitats.
- A group of tigers is called a 'streak'.
- Top speed for a tiger is in the range of about 55 kilometres per hour (34 miles per hour). Not the speed of light, but faster than a scooter.
- Tigers have two noses! Well, not literally of course. A secondary scent gland called 'Jacobson's organ' is located in the tigers mouth and is used in assisting the animals in identifying other scents.
- Tiger stripes are like human fingerprints, no two patterns are identical.
- The Tasmanian Tiger is not actually a tiger, but a species of marsupial, now thought to be extinct.
- The Saber-Toothed Tiger, or Smilodon, an extinct creature of the Ice Age was also not really a tiger, but more closely related to dogs!