Tigers are perhaps the world’s best known cats. Many countries and cultures have myths and legends surrounding tigers. The Indian goddess Durga is often depicted as having a pet tiger. Several cultures see tigers and their parts as medical cures. This has caused a decline in the tiger’s population. Three subspecies of tigers have become extinct and one living one is near extinction. Since tigers live in the forest, habitat destruction has become a major cause of their declining numbers. Those pretty orange and black stripes make a tiger’s fur highly desirable as well.

There is currently 6 subspecies of tigers still in existence. All of them live in Southeast Asia and China, along with northern parts of Russia. The South China tiger is the rarest, the Sumatran is the smallest, the Siberian the biggest, and the Bengal is the most common. The last existing subspecies are the Indochinese tiger and the Malayan, with the Malayan being somewhat smaller than the Indochinese. The three extinct subspecies are the Caspian, the Javan and the Bali.

The difference in size between the largest tiger (9 ft long, 800 pounds) and the smallest (7 feet long, 600 pounds) does not seem like much, until you actually see them at a zoo.

The so called white tigers are not a separate species nor are they an albino. The white fur is caused by a recessive gene. This is similar to blue eyes in people. You can have white and orange tigers in the same family.

The South China tiger is so rare that it almost impossible to find it outside of China. Even zoos outside of China do not have South China tigers. The main threats to their survival are habitat loss and illegal poaching for tiger parts. These same threats affect all tigers.

Unlike most cats, tigers actually enjoy water. They will frequently play in it or just lie down in a lake to cool off. They are good swimmers and have been known to catch prey in the water. Like many cats, their favorite prey is a variety of deer, antelope, and boar species that are native to their region.

Tigers in captivity tend to live around 20 years, just like domestic cats. They typically have 3-4 cubs, but up to 7 cubs may be born. They nurse for around 6 months but it takes up to 2 years before the cubs are ready to leave their mother and be on their own. Tigers live independently, coming together only for mating.