Tigers are of the genus and species Panthera tigris, and are both revered and feared, hunted and protected. These typically orange with black striped (some are white due to a genetic mutation) carnivores can be exceptionally large. There are actually several subspecies of tiger that live throughout parts of Asia, and though these species can mate, they have separate distinctions, tolerate different types of habitats, and may differ in size and proliferation. The largest males of the subspecies, Siberians, can weigh about 660 pounds (299.37 kg) and have a nose to tail tip length of 13 feet (3.96 m).
Some of these subspecies are now close to extinction, and a few are already extinct. For instance subspecies like the Balinese, the Javan and the Caspian are gone. The South China subspecies is likely to become extinct, even though the Chinese government now forbids the hunting of these tigers. There have been few sightings of this animal, and only a few exist in zoos. Other types include the Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, Sumatran and Siberian tiger. Virtually all tigers are endangered, and tiger hunting even when it is made illegal, continues to exist.
In the wild, life expectancy is about 15-20 years, but when kept in captivity humanely, the animals may live longer. The animal reaches sexual maturity at about three to four years of age, and mate for brief periods and then separate. Only females and cubs live together, though the cubs may remain with their mothers until they reach maturity. Cubs are at risk from mature males that wish to mate, since they may attempt to kill smaller cubs in order to encourage the mother’s urge to mate again.
Tigers are carnivores not by choice or habit but by necessity. They are called obligate carnivores since they must eat meat in order to survive. What types of meat typically are eaten largely depends upon subspecies and location of the tiger. Generally these mammals will eat various midsized animals that are small enough to tackle easily. Occasionally there have been accounts of attacks on Asian elephants, and on crocodiles, but usually tigers have more sense than to attack creatures that have so great a potential to injure them.
These huge cats have increasingly come into contact with humans, leading to some tiger attacks on humans. Mostly the animals will avoid human habitats when they can, but they are opportunistic. As such, they are sometimes labeled man-eaters, and there are numerous accounts of attacks on humans, both in the wild and in captivity. Even trained animals have attacked and critically injured their trainers.
Their wildness cannot be trained out, and their size and unpredictability can make them treacherous. Nevertheless, there are about 12,000 tigers owned as pets in the US alone. A higher number of tigers exist in captivity than the total wild population.
The small population of all the subspecies combined means in most cases these animals are greatly endangered, and they have been in some cases hunted to extinction. Some mythologies, especially in Asian medicine suggest that certain parts of the tiger can increase fertility or stamina. The animals have also been hunted for their fur, or merely because they are the largest of the big cats. More positively, tigers are sometimes thought to have mystical powers; they are one of the 12 Chinese zodiac signs, and they are on coats of arms, national flags, and may be nearly worshipped. This has not helped the animal much, though there are now considerable efforts to conserve wild tigers and to hopefully increase their populations.