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What are the Different Tiger Species?

By Lauren Romano
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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The tiger species includes the largest members of the cat family, have an all-meat diet and live in Asia. Although many people believe each type of tiger is an individual tiger species, they are actually each considered a subspecies of tiger. Out of nine subspecies of tigers, three are extinct and six are endangered. The subspecies are Indochinese tiger, Malayan tiger, Siberian tiger, Sumatran tiger, Bengal tiger and South China tiger, although the South China tiger may actually be extinct. The tiger species as a whole is in danger of becoming extinct as there are believed to be fewer than 5,000 left in the wild as of 2010.

The Indochinese tiger lives in the moist forests of Indochina in Southeast Asia. It is unknown how many are left in the world, though there was thought to be only a few hundred remaining as of 2010. The main threats are poaching and fragmentation. As of 2010, the Indochinese tiger was labeled as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

The Sumatran tiger subspecies is located on the island of Sumatra. In 2008, it was labeled as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In 2010, it was estimated that there were only several hundred Sumatran tigers in the wild. Their main threat is the destruction of their habitat, which in turn, eliminates their usual food source. Poaching is also a major problem, as they are hunted for their bones and skin.

The Malayan tiger was listed as a tiger subspecies in 2004. They live on the Malay Peninsula and it's believed that there are only several hundred left in the wild. Due to logging and land development, they often hunt livestock. As a result, many of them are killed in retaliation by farmers. In 2008, the subspecies was labeled as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

In 2008, which was the South China Tiger's last assessment as of 2010, the subspecies was labeled as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They may actually be extinct — as of 2010, there have been no sightings of them in more than two decades. The forests of Southeast China were, or are, their home. In addition to habitat destruction, campaigns to eradicate the tiger subspecies reduced the numbers by thousands over several decades.

Also known as Amur tigers, the Siberian tiger is the largest of the tiger subspecies. They live in Russia as well as in North Korea and China in extremely cold forest areas. Habitat loss is one major threat to the Siberian tiger, however, the largest threat is poaching. As of 2010, the Siberian tiger was labeled as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The Bengal tiger, also known as the Indian tiger, has the largest population of the tiger subspecies as of 2011 with almost 2,000 and its population is stable. Bengal tigers live in the forests of South Asia as well as on grassland — the majority live in India. As of 2010, the Bengal tiger was labeled as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. As is usually true for the tiger species as a whole, the main threats facing the Bengal tiger are loss of habitat and poaching. White tigers, which are rarely seen in the wild, aren't actually an additional subspecies, but instead, are a type of Bengal tiger.

Tigers, with the exception of white tigers, have a reddish-orange and white coat with dark stripes. Larger males can weigh close to 600 pounds (270 kg) while females can weigh close to 400 pounds (180 kg). In a zoo, tigers can live close to 20 years while in the wild they typically live closer to 15.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many tiger species are there?

There are currently six recognized subspecies of tigers. These include the Bengal tiger, Indochinese tiger, Malayan tiger, Siberian tiger, South China tiger, and the Sumatran tiger. Each species has adapted to its unique habitat, from the snowy forests of Russia to the tropical forests of Indonesia.

Which tiger species is the largest?

The Siberian tiger, also known as the Amur tiger, is the largest of all the tiger species. Males can weigh up to 660 pounds and measure up to 12 feet in length. Their size is an adaptation to their cold habitat in the Russian Far East, where a larger body size helps retain heat.

Are there any tiger species that have gone extinct?

Yes, three tiger species have sadly gone extinct in the last century: the Caspian tiger, the Javan tiger, and the Bali tiger. Habitat loss, poaching, and conflict with humans have been the primary causes of their extinction. Conservation efforts are crucial to prevent the remaining species from facing a similar fate.

What is the rarest tiger species?

The South China tiger is considered the rarest tiger species, with no confirmed sightings in the wild for over 25 years. It is feared to be functionally extinct in the wild, with a few individuals remaining in captivity. Conservation programs are attempting to reintroduce captive-bred tigers into protected areas.

How do tiger species differ from each other?

Tiger species differ in size, coloration, and patterns. For example, the Sumatran tiger is the smallest, with darker fur and the densest stripes to blend into its dense forest environment. The Siberian tiger has paler fur with fewer stripes, which helps it camouflage in snowy landscapes. Each species' adaptations are a response to their distinct habitats.

What conservation status do tiger species currently hold?

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), most tiger species are listed as Endangered, with the exception of the South China tiger, which is Critically Endangered. The Sumatran tiger is also critically endangered, with fewer than 400 individuals estimated to be left in the wild.

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