The Caspian tiger is a now extinct subspecies of tiger, last seen in the late 1960s. With the scientific name of panthera tigris virgata, this tiger was once found in areas of Asia including Turkey, China and Iran. There are no Caspian, or Persian, tigers in captivity anywhere in the world. DNA analysis has determined that this tiger species was very closely related to the Siberian tiger.
Caspian tigers were relatively smaller than other species, weighing up to approximately 500 pounds (226 kg) and measuring up to 8 feet (about 2.44 m). Interestingly, their paws were large in comparison to other species. They could be identified by their narrow, bold stripes that had a cinnamon hue, and by their black patterns on the tail that were less distinct than other tigers, such as the Sumatran or Bengal tigers. They had pale winter coats and a hair length similar to other subspecies.
The preferred habitat of this big cat was lowland forest areas with plentiful water supplies. Ground and vegetation cover was essential to the hunting practices of the Caspian tiger, that favored wild boar and various deer species as prey. They were also known to target sheep, dogs and horses. Attacks on humans were extremely rare and the result of human infiltration in tiger territory. Caspian tigers were typically very solitary animals and had a fairly short average life span of approximately ten years.
The extinction of the Caspian tiger was the result of a combination of factors, including loss of habitat and hunting. Tigers in Russian territory were targeted by the Russian army as land was being transformed into farms and home sites. This forced the cats to move away from lowland areas subject to deforestation and to find refuge in mountainous areas for which they were not well suited. The species was also hunted for sport for many years before its extinction and was reportedly used in fighting arenas by a number of different groups.
The last official reported sighting of a Caspian tiger occurred at the end of the 1960s, although even this tiger kill is controversial. Some claims have been made that the subspecies still exists in very remote regions of Afghanistan, but there is no clear evidence to support these claims. Whether such sightings are accurate, if any tigers remain their numbers would be so small that the species cannot be considered viable. Some scientists believe that since the Caspian is so similar genetically to the Siberian tiger, the subspecies could be recreated using existing Siberian creatures.