Amur Tiger

Amur Tiger

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Description

Tigers are the biggest cats in the world, and Amur tigers are the biggest subspecies of tigers.  Their coat is golden-orange with dark stripes and some patches of white on the belly, chest, throat, and muzzle.  Compared with other species of tigers, Amur tigers have more white in their coat and fewer stripes.

Lifestyle

Amur tigers are adapted to live in a harsh, cold climate where extremely cold temperatures and deep snow are common.  Their large size allows them to conserve heat better, a layer of fat (on their flanks and belly) protects them from the elements, fur that is thick and long provides protection from cold during winter months, and extra fur on the paws acts as snow boots for protection from snow and ice.

Except for mothers and their cubs, tigers live alone in their individual home ranges.  A male defends a large territory, up to 4,000 square miles, that overlaps with ranges of multiple females.
Though they spend most of their time alone, tigers are not really anti-social.  They keep in contact by a variety of methods.  Scent marking may be the most important way tigers communicate.  Both males and females spray "marking fluid" (often mixed with urine) onto upright objects.  They may deposit scent from their anal glands.  This scent marking provides important information about the animal that left it including identity, gender, breeding status, and the time the mark was made.  Tigers also leave each other visual cues, which include scrapes, claw marks, and feces.  Another visual cue is the tiger itself.  Since every tiger has a unique pattern of stripes, it is likely that individuals identify each other, at least in part, by their appearance.  Besides visual signals and smells, tigers communicate through sounds.  They have a wide range of vocalizations, including a roar, growl, snarl, grunt, moan, spit and hiss.  Different sounds are used for different situations.

Food Habits

Amur tigers are thought to locate prey using hearing and sight more than smell.  Once located, they use stealth, taking advantage of every rock and tree and bush as cover.  They rarely chase prey over much distance.  Tigers are silent, taking cautious steps and keeping low to the ground so they are not sighted or heard by prey.  They kill by ambushing, throwing prey off balance with their body mass as they leap onto it.  Prey are usually dragged to cover and may be left there and revisited over several days.  The majority of a tiger's diet consists of large ungulates, such as deer and elk.

Tigers are solitary and mostly active at night, when their prey are most active.  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 any area with reduced snow depth.  Tigers have tremendous leaping ability, able to leap from 26 to 33 feet (roughly 8 to 10 meters). They are excellent swimmers and climbers, using their retractable claws and powerful legs.

Lifecycle

Female tigers come into estrus every three to nine weeks and are receptive for three to six days.  They have a gestation period of 96 to 111 days, after which they give birth to litters of 1 to 7 cubs, average litter size of 2 to 3 cubs.  Newborn cubs are blind and helpless, weighing from 780 to 1600 g. T he eyes do not open until 6 to 14 days after birth and the ears from 9 to 11 days after birth.  The mother spends most of her time nursing the cubs during this vulnerable stage.  Weaning occurs at 90 to 100 days old.  Cubs start following their mother at 2 months and begin to eat some solid food at that time.  From 5 to 6 months old, the cubs begin to take part in hunting.  Cubs stay with their mother until they are 18 months to 3 years old. Young tigers do not reach sexual maturity until three to four years of age for females, four to five years of age for males.

Population Status, Threats & Conservation

Amur tigers are critically endangered, with fewer than 400 remaining in the wild.  Their endangered status has been due to two factors, poaching and habitat loss.  Amur tigers are hunted illegally for their body parts for use in traditional medicine.  Habitat loss has occured as humans have encroached on their boreal forests for logging and expansion of development.  As tigers travel through fragmented habitat looking for prey (primarily red deer), they find fewer prey animals to hunt and have an increased chance of being spotted by humans and poachers.  As they are forced to travel greater distances to find prey, it takes a toll on thier condition and, ultimately, population numbers.

To learn more about Amur tiger research and conservation, visit the Wildlife Conservation Society/Russia Amur tiger page.

Sources:
Wildlife Conservation Society/Russia, Amur tiger page
Dacres, K. and B. Lundrigan. 2007. "Panthera tigris" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web
Saint Louis Zoo