The Surviving Subspecies of the Tiger

Jun 9 10:32 2016 Lisa Jeeves Print This Article

While Tiger watching tours most often take participants to encounter the Bengal Tiger, there are six surviving subspecies of Panthera tigris.

Panthera tigris – the mighty Tiger – is the largest of all the big cats. These apex predators once occupied vast tracts of habitat across the world,Guest Posting but this has been dramatically reduced over the past century. For those interested in Tiger watching, the most popular tours take participants into the jungles of India to encounter the magnificent Bengal Tiger, but there are actually six surviving subspecies of Panthera tigris.

The Bengal Tiger (P.t. tigris) is the most common of the subspecies, found predominantly in India (where the majority of Tiger watching tours take place), but also in Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. The males can reach up to 310cm in length and weigh up to a massive 260kgs. Their preferred habitat is tropical and sub-tropical rainforests, as well as alluvial grasslands and scrub forests. Their coats can vary from light amber to more russet-red tones with dark stripes.

The Malayan Tiger (P.t. jacksoni) only achieved its status as a subspecies in 2004, and is found exclusively in the southern regions of the Malay peninsular. There are only about 500 of these big cats left in the wild and their survival is further endangered by continued poaching. They are the second smallest of the subspecies, with males averaging about 120kgs.

The South China Tiger (P.t amoyensis) has the dubious honour of being one of the top 10 critically endangered animals in the world. It is the oldest of the subspecies, but there have been no confirmed sightings in the wild for more than 25 years, and there are only 65 in captivity. The second smallest in stature of the subspecies, its most distinctive characteristics are its elongated skull and vibrant orange coat.

The Sumatran Tiger (P.t. Sumatrae) is the last of three Indonesian subspecies and is itself on the critically endangered list. Found only on the island from which it gets its name, it is the smallest of all the subspecies, with males weighing a maximum of 140kg and measuring up to 255cm from nose to tail. Their coat is quite a dark shade of orange, with dense stripes and a distinct beard and mane.

The Indochinese Tiger (P.t. corbetti) is smaller and darker than its Bengal counterpart and is found in Cambodia, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam. Unfortunately, there are not very many left in the wild, as they're extremely vulnerable to poaching in order to satisfy the Chinese pharmaceutical market.

The Siberian Tiger (P.t. altaica) is the largest of all the subspecies, with adult males weighing up to 167kg and nose to tail length reaching up to 340cm. While in the past their range extended throughout China, Siberia and Korea, today these big cats are found only in the far-eastern regions of Siberia, and a small pocket in the north of China. Their coat is thick and far paler than other subspecies, and marked with sparse brown stripes.

Extinct Subspecies

Four subspecies are tragically gone from the Earth forever:

• P.t balica – endemic to the Indonesian island of Bali and hunted to extinction in the 1930s
• P.t virgata – was found throughout Asia but became extinct in the 1970s
• P.t sondaica – endemic to Java but became extinct at the end of the 1970s
• P.t trinil – reached extinction in prehistoric times


While there are a number of high profile conservation efforts in place to ensure the safe survival of these magnificent big cats, they remain on the critically endangered list. For those who venture into the jungles of India on Tiger watching tours, the opportunity to observe them in their natural habitat is a genuine once in a lifetime privilege that should not be underestimated.

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About Article Author

Lisa Jeeves
Lisa Jeeves

Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Tiger watching. Being passionate about her subject, Marissa chooses the expert-led wildlife holidays organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.

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