Location in Zoo
Lifestyle and Lifespan
Our tigers are 'generic,' meaning they are not identifiable as members of the Siberian, Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, Sumatran or South China subspecies. These large cats have a reddish-orange coat with vertical black stripes. The underside of the limbs and belly, chest, throat and muzzle are white or lightly colored. Eyes are large, with excellent vision. Hearing is good, with well-developed ear flaps. They have large canine teeth, and strong powerful jaws. Paws are heavily padded; claws are retractable. Fur is short and thick. Whiskers (vibrissae) are long with thick, individual hairs.
There are currently 6 subspecies of tiger, each living in different habitats: Amur/Siberian tiger, Bengal/Indian tiger, Indochinese tiger, Malayan tiger, Sumatran tiger, South China tiger. The different subspecies are found in small areas of Asia, India and Russia. *Please note that our tigers are 'generic' and don't belong to any of these specific subspecies.
Camouflage: The tiger's striped coat helps them blend in well with the sunlight filtering through the treetops to the jungle floor. (In the forests where the tigers live, the light filters through the trees, creating a shadow. The pattern of the tiger's fur matches that shadow, allowing it to blend into its environment. This way, the tiger can sneak up on its prey without the prey spotting it.) The tiger's sense of hearing is so sharp that they are capable of hearing infrasound, which are sound waves below the range of normally audible sound (20 hertz.) Tigers have a special adaptation to their retinas, which allows more light to reflect back into their eyes, making it easier to see in the dark. Especially important, since they hunt at night! Large teeth and long, retractable claws, both of which help them to hunt. A tiger's large canine teeth and powerful jaws are used to grab a prey animal by the neck and suffocate it. Tigers use their sandpaper-rough tongues to scrape the last bits of meat from the bones of a meal. The spots on the back of their ears and their pattern of stripes may also be used in intraspecific communication. Tigers have tremendous leaping ability, being able to leap from 8-10 meters. Leaps of half that distance are more typical. Tigers are excellent swimmers and water doesn't usually act as a barrier to their movement. Tigers are also excellent climbers, using their retractable claws and powerful legs. Their stiff whiskers enable a tiger to move through thick cover at night. If the whiskers fit, the whole body can follow.
Tigers live in a wide variety of habitats, from tropical lowland evergreen forest, monsoonal forest, dry thorn forest, scrub oak and birch woodlands, tall grass jungles, and mangrove swamps. They are able to cope with a broad range of climactic variation, from warm moist areas, to areas of extreme snowfall where temperatures may be as low as -40 degrees Celsius. Some even seem to have special fondness for cover in old ruins.
Home range sizes vary depending on the density of prey. For example: female Indian tigers have home range sizes from 124-621 square miles; whereas a male Indian tiger's range averages between 2-15 times larger than that. Tigers may cover as much as 10-20 miles in a single night.
The tiger diet consists of various large ungulate species, including elk, sika deer and water buffalo. Domestic ungulates are also hunted, including cattle, horses and goats.
Carnivore. Secondary consumer. Along with other major carnivores, tigers control the population of herbivores and preserve the grassland ecosystem. The interdependency of living forms in a food chain is obvious as the wild tiger is dependent upon herbivores for its survival, which in turn prevents the grasslands from being overgrazed. (Tigers help regulate populations of their large herbivore prey, which put pressure on plant communities. Because of their role as top predators, they may be considered keystone species.)
Most active at night.
Communication among tigers is maintained by scent markings, visual signals, and vocalization. Scent markings are deposited in the form of an odorous musky liquid that is mixed with urine and sprayed-on objects like grass, trees, or rocks. When threatened, tigers will pull the corners of their mouth open, exposing their canines, flattening their ears, and enlarging the pupils of their eyes. Tigers prefer to hunt in dense vegetation and along routes where they can move quietly. In snow, tigers select routes on frozen river beds, in paths made by ungulates, or anywhere else that has a reduced snow depth.
Tigers are solitary, the only long-term relationship is between a mother and her offspring.
Polygynandrous (promiscuous). Tigers are solitary and do not associate with mates except for mating. Local males may compete for access to females in estrus. Female tigers come into estrus every 3-9 weeks and are receptive for 3-6 days. They have a gestation period of about 103 days, after which they give birth to from 1-7 altricial cubs (average litter sizes are 2-3 cubs.)
Newborn cubs are blind and helpless. Their eyes do not open until 6-14 days after birth and their ears from 9-11 days after birth. The mother spends most of her time nursing the young during this vulnerable stage. Weaning occurs at 90-100 days old.
IUCN: Endangered; US Federal List: Endangered, CITES: Appendix I. Siberian (P.t. altaica), South China (P.t. amoyensis), and Sumatran tigers (P.t. sumatrae) are all critically endangered. Bengal (P. tigris tigris) and Indochinese tigers (P. tigris corbetti) and endangered. Bali (P.t. balica), Javan (P.t. sondaica), and Caspian tigers (P. tigris virgata) are extinct. The specific threats to tigers vary regionally, but human persecution, hunting, and human-induced habitat destruction are universal factors in threatening tiger populations.
The range of tigers once extended across Asia from eastern Turkey and the Caspian Sea south of the Tibetan plateau eastward to Manchuria and the Sea of Okhostsk. Tigers were also found in northern Iran, Afghanistan, the Indus valley of Pakistan, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and the islands of Java and Bali. Tigers are now extinct or nearly extinct in most of these areas. (Populations remain relatively stable in northeastern China, Korea, Russia, and parts of India and the Himalayan region.)
Oakland Zoo actively supports the Saving Wild Tigers project.
Tigers are seldom far from a water source; there are Bengal tigers that live in wet mangrove forests along the Ganges River in India. Excellent and powerful swimmers, tigers are often found during the day relaxing or waiting to ambush prey in ponds, streams and rivers. They seek out water to swim while most cats avoid it. Tigers even have partially webbed toes and aren't discouraged by a river if there is prey on the other side!
Superstition has surrounded tigers for centuries; necklaces of claws are thought to protect a child from "the evil eye", whiskers have been considered either a dreadful poison (Malaysia), a powerful aphrodisiac (Indonesia), or an aid to childbirth (India and Pakistan) and the bones, fat, liver and penis are prized as aphrodisiacs or medicines.
Tigers are the largest of the wild cats, larger than lions!
Dacres, K. 2007. "Panthera tigris" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed September 02, 2016 at http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Panthera_tigris/
"Big Cats Facts" (On-line), National Geographic. Accessed September 02, 2016 at http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/big-cats/facts/
"Mammals: Tiger" (On-line), San Diego Zoo Animals. Accessed September 02, 2016 at http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/tiger
"IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line), IUCN Red List. Accessed September 02, 2016 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/136899/0
"5 Simple Things You Can Do To Help Save Wild Tigers" (On-line), Catser Magazine. Accessed September 02, 2016 at http://www.catster.com/lifestyle/help-save-tips-big-cats-wild-tigers
Nowak, Ronald and John Paradiso. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World, Volume II (4th edition). John Hopkins Univ. Press, Baltimore and London.
Sunquist, Fiona & Mel Sunquist. 1988. Tiger Moon. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
World Wildlife Find, Inc. 1993. in "Focus" Vol.15, No. 6, Nov./Dec. '93.
Molly (2005-2021), Milou (2005-2021), Ginger (2005-2021), and Grace (2005-2019) were born into the multi-billion-dollar exotic pet trade.
Along with their sisters Ginger and Grace, Molly and Milou were born into the multi-billion dollar exotic pet industry. Bred by private owners in Texas, these four cubs were prematurely taken from their mother and used by their owners for ‘photo ops’ - the business where people pay a small fee to take photos with them - we’ve all seen sad photos of that kind on social media. Once they were too big to handle and no longer profitable, their owners no longer wanted them and the young tigers were neglected. The USDA rescued them, but without a new home, they were set to be euthanized like so many countless privately-owned tigers used for entertainment purposes.
Fortunately, we were able to offer these four tigers a permanent home here at Oakland Zoo, and they joined our family in October 2011. They became ambassadors to not only their wild counterparts, but through their story they also helped visitors learn the sad truth behind the “tiger petting” exotic pet industry they were victimized by.
Grace passed in 2019, and Ginger in mid-2021. Molly and Milou were struggling with severely declining health in their old age, including advanced kidney disease and debilitating arthritis. Inbred by their previous owners, they were predisposed to health conditions and the poor care they received back then contributed to those conditions. Additionally, our vet team recently discovered that Milou had cancerous tumor that had spread and was inoperable. Together, our animal care and veterinary staff made the extremely difficult decision to end their suffering and euthanize both tigers in November 2021.
In June 2022, Oakland Zoo, in partnership with two globally accredited big cat sanctuaries, rescued four big cats from an abandoned roadside zoo in Oklahoma. We welcomed two tigers -- Lola and Mia -- from this rescue to Oakland Zoo, where we are providing rehabilitative medical care and forever homes for them. Lola and Mia are currently being cared for at our veterinary hospital and will move to their forever home, our tiger habitat, in late July or early August.