31202Big Cat Facts: The 6 Subspecies of Tiger

The intriguing and mysterious Panthera tigris is an animal that inspires both fear and fascination. But despite its status as an apex predator it remains one of the most endangered species on the planet – with its global population only amounting to 5% of what it was a century ago. For anyone fortunate enough to enjoy the privilege of encountering this formidable beast on a Tiger tour, it is an experience that provides memories to endure a lifetime.

There are six extant subspecies of Tiger and three that are unfortunately already extinct.

Bengal (P. tigris tigris): The most populous of all the subspecies, found in Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and India, is the magnificent Bengal. It can be sighted on a Tiger tour to the Indian subcontinent. It prefers a habitat of forests and grasslands but is also sometimes found in semi-desert regions. Despite its numbers being greater than all the other subspecies, it is nevertheless considered endangered, with an estimated 2,500-4,000 left in the wild.

Sumatran (P. tigris sumatrae): Classified as critically endangered, it is found only on the Indonesian island from which it takes its name. Its coat is darker than usual and its broad, often doubled stripes extend down to its legs as well. While protected by law, its numbers are still falling due to hunting for body parts.

Siberian (P. tigris altaica): This is the largest of all the subspecies, with adult males measuring up to 3.3m and 300kg. Distributed primarily in the far east of Russia and northeast China, they have pale orange fur with a white chest, underbelly and ruff, and lighter brown stripes than normal.

Malayan (P. tigris jacksoni): Previously considered part of the Indochinese subspecies, based on genetic analysis it was given its own classification in 2004. It is found in the subtropical rainforests of the Malayan Peninsular and is slightly smaller in stature than its counterpart.

South China (P. tigris amoyensis): Labelled as critically endangered, it is considered functionally extinct in the wild – although around 50 remain in zoos in China. It was previously found throughout central and eastern China; there has some been evidence of them over the years in the remote provinces, but no sightings or concrete proof.

Indochinese (P. tigris corbetti): Tending to prefer the remote, mountainous terrain of Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Burma and Cambodia, ironically, it is no longer extant in China. Because of its chosen habitat, not much is known about the remaining populations in the wild. They are lighter in colouring and smaller than the Bengal, but adult males can still reach up to three metres.

Extinct Subspecies

There are also three extinct subspecies: the Javan, which was last recorded in the early 1980s; the Caspian, which died out in the 1970s; and the Bali Tiger, which disappeared in the 1940s.

Consideration and Conservation

In order for the remaining numbers of this magnificent animal to survive and thrive once again, it’s vital that the established conservation programmes and initiatives are given support. The only safe and responsible way to see the big cat in its natural habitat is on an organised Tiger tour, which also serves to raise awareness of the animal’s plight and go some way towards the preservation of its future.

Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Tiger watching. As a passionate lover of wildlife, Marissa chooses the expert-led Tiger tour itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of species in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.

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