WHO IS REALLY THE TIGER ?
Tiger (Panthera tigris) is :
a digitigrad (that walks on his fingers) carnivore belonging to the family Felidae (cat species).
Several subfamilies occured in the evolution of Felidae species, particularly those of saber-tooth tigers (also named saber-tooth cats) that were represented by many different species. The best known subfamilies of these animals were afro - eurasian Machairodontinae and american Smilodontinae.
Since the end of upper Pleistocene, only one cat subfamily still exists, the Felinae (or « modern cats »). So, tigers and sabre – tooth tigers are not strongly correlated.
A majority of systematicians consider that tigers belong to genus Panthera (or « Great cats », as well as lion, jaguar). Thus, this animal has been recently classified in Neofelis genus, near leaf – mint (clouded) leopard (that belongs to « Big cats » group, as well as snow leopard and puma).
Lynx is the biggest animal belonging to « small cats » group.
In the Felinae, thus biggest cats (tigers, lions and jaguars up to a point) belong to « Great cats » group one of their more significant differents with other feline species is the fact they have no continuous purring, more than a difference of size ( some puma (Felis concolor) individuals can be larger than jaguars).
Speciation process : the striped cave lion
Tigers are probably the fruit of a lions’ population particular evolution.
Lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars result of radiations from a common ancestor that was probably morphologically most similar to the modern leopard and lived about five million years ago.
Lions are found in the fossil record to about 3.5 million years ago. Tigers are genetically most closely related to lions.
Early lions have both lion and tiger characters.
Cave lions have been considered as tigers by the german paleontologist Joseph Groiss in 1996. He named them Panthera tigris spelaea and P. t. atrox.
These animals were generally faintly – and sometimes more firmly- striped.
A chinese artist has painted on a parchment an enormous wholly feline, whose pale fur seems to be mostly unpatterned (with stripes around paws and tail). Perhaps it was a chinese cave lion (Marshall – Thomas 1994) . Stripes are positioned in the same manner in reconstitutions of the giant american lion Panthera atrox.
Panthera youngi, living in north eastern China 350 000 years ago, is considered by some paleontologists as conspecific with P. spelaea and P. atrox, and as a primitive tiger by others.
Squeletons of the two species are almost indistinguishable (legs ans paws excluded).
Today, poached Gir lions’ parts are sold as « tiger products ».
The two animals easily interbreed, forming hybrids called ligers when the father is a lion and tigons when the father is a tiger.
In addition, while tigers are considered to be rather solitary animals and lions are famously social, in the rare pockets of high tiger population density in India, lion-like cooperative hunting tactics have been observed.
Anton and Turner (1997) precize : « Whether solitary hunting is a relatively recent development in the tiger’s social and predatory behavior is unclear, but observations of its behavior at bait sites to which it has been lured for study suggest they may be as potentially sociable as the lion. »
The exact pattern of Panthera radiation is infact not known, but given the primacy of lion fossils (3,5 millions years) and from the facts mentioned below, it is at least possible that tigers evolved from lions.
This process could have been quick, as it is presently shown in the case for cheetah/king cheetah disociation in Africa (See L. Bottriell 1987, King Cheetah : the story of a Quest, and B.Heuvelmans 2007 (only in french language) : les félins encore inconnus d’Afrique, eds. L’œil du Sphinx).
A credible reconstitution could be the following one :
2 millions years ago, a family of chinese faintly striped lions plunge in swampy vegetation of Yellow River basin to escape to competition from an other clan.
In a few centuries, and perhaps only decades of ecological separation and coat modifications, the swamp producted the tiger.
Perhaps other homologous mutations occured from cave lions on other continents (Europa, America) but, if any, couldn’t be durably maintained, and we have no tracks of them.
Reproduction and hybridization
Tigers bread seasonnaly, with females on heat a few days per year. They have litters of 2 to 7 cubs. The time of pregnancy is short (103 days). When persecuted, tiger females increase signicantly their breeding behaviour (younger, more often). When not perturbated and with sufficient space and preys, relictual tiger populations may very quickly multiplicate their numbers.
The animal has an enormous strongness of resiliency.
Usually tigresses take care of their cubs alone, and they must protect them against males.
In some cases (observations in bengladeshi forests) the father helps the mother and has good relationships with his children. Perhaps it’s also an adaptative behaviour to present precarity.
In any way, tigers may adapt their behavior to sociality in artificial situations like circus and moreover tiger farms.
And (as it has been mentioned before), tigers can be, in some circumstances, as social as lions.
Tiger can product hybrids with lion as well as with leopard, and even with jaguar in captivity.
Concerning the lion/tiger hybrids, who are the most well known, it has been clearly established that, for social and genetic feed back phenomenons in lion populations, a lion/tigress hybrid (liger) is biggest than his parents, contrarily to tigon (tiger/lioness hybrid) who is smaller than them.
In December 2007, there are several hundreds of ligers in USA, who can be considered, for many of them as pets. They are the biggest present cats (males can occasionnally excess a half - tonne.)
In Upper Pleistocene period, american lions were comparable in size to modern ligers. They were bigger than their eurasian counterparts, that were were themselves bigger than their african congeners.
These animals could eventually mate with siberian tigresses (present in Alaska during this period) with male cubs of polar bear size when adult. If american tigers were bigger than their siberian counterparts (in the same mechanism as this observed in lions), the result could be even larger.
The Shambala Preserve - a big cat sanctuary founded by actress Tippi Hedren -- had a female tigon named Noelle who mated with a male Siberian tiger and gave birth to a ti-tigon. Ms. Hedren reports that Noelle could "speak" both lion and tiger but spoke only tiger to her son.
A wide ecological spectrum
Tigers live in various conditions of climate, vegetation and so on…
From gigantic chinese swamps of their birth (which explains their stripation, unique phenomenon in cats), they quickly expand to the Northern forests and even cold swamps up to parallel 72th, and to the South in subtropical forests up to Borneo and possibly even Sulawesi.
They are the most aquatic (marine areas included) and best swimmers of all big cats, on the same level as the jaguar. As it has been determined by the greatest specialists (like Valmik Thapar), tigers can adapt to almost every ecological and climatic context (if not exterminated), and particularly villages and towns (as well as leopards do).
Stripes, colours, size : an irreplaceable marvel
STRIPES : a « spotted » pantherine in adaptation.
On an evolutive plan, many elements make think that feline, and particularly pantherine coats were originally longitudinally striped. There were afterwards a fragmentation process in chains of spots.
In a third time, these spots were reorganized in rosettes, or scattered throughout the coat. Final step was obtained with fusion of spots or rosettes in gigantic marblings (clouded leopard) and transversal stripes (tiger) (Heuvelmans 2007, already mentioned before).
Spotted fur and speckled face are common in a majority of pantherine species (and even in numerous cats). It could be a strong element of efficience for predators that must be hidden from the look of their preys. Even lions and pumas are widely spotted when they are young, and adult lions have (at least) spotted legs. Cheetahs are spotted and speckled, while leopards are chiefly rosetted. So, modalities in fur speckling are dependent from several correlated parameters amongst them ecological preferences, hunting techniques, sociality and dominance.
From this point of view, a cat predator of open field has unpatterned coats when strongly social (adult lions - except on legs and paws, but without any strong contrast with fur colour -) or spots when solitary (cheetah) in very strong contrast with fur colour.
Solitary cats living in grasslands with high and dense vegetation have complex spots named « rosettes », in a process that can end to stripation. Many leopards have both « classical » rosettes and « protostripes » on their fur.
Higher and sicker is the vegetation, stronger is the process of stripation. South african king cheetahs are much more striped than spotted. Their stripes are spectacularly wide, a bit like those of indochinese tigers.
So, a striped cat like the tiger probably lived in particularly high and dense vegetation, like reed beds of rivers and swampy areas, with a vegetation six meters high, at the beginning of his evolution history (probably from the ecological isolation of faintly striped cave lions) . That’s also in correspondance with the fact he likes water very much.
Tigers have generally more than one hundred stripes on their fur.
On the contrary, solitary cats species born in forests are nor spotted neither striped but covered of giant and extremely complex rosettes, as in the jaguar or the taïga’s leopard cases.
In high altitude forests and mountains, rosettes are so large that they become marbles, as it is the case for animals like snow leopards and clouded leopards.
In addition, leopard and jaguar rosettes and tiger stripes may agglomerate on individuals living in deep forests, with the result of « black » animals. It can be rarely also the case for particular individuals of protostriped king cheetahs.
Most tigers who live in forests submit a process of rosettation. Their stripes are less numerous, as they change in elongated rosettes, the lanceoles.
More forestal is the live of the tiger, more numerous and « rosette – like » are his lanceoles.
A swampy tiger is firstly striped, a forestal tiger is firstly lanceolated (if they have both lived in their preferential areas since many generations).
Caspian tigers, with a distribution reduced to eurasian river boardings after the post neolithic arid, have been the only exclusively striped tigers.
That why they were named Panthera tigris virgata.
Their stripes were more numerous and nearer from each other than those of other tigers. In correlation with, for one part, their preferential ecosystem, and the other part, genetics of their lions ancestors, their stripes were not black, but grey and brown.
A VERY WIDE SPECTRUM OF COLOURS
Tiger in his evolution and diversity is like a variable tricoloured flagship.
Nobody knows exactly what were furs of first chinese swampy tigers like, living 2 millions years ago. In addition, from the the pale and faintly strped coat of the « cave lion root », there was probably a critical phasis of « tryings and errors » in which many individual or familial combinations appeared and then progressively were reduced in correlation with their ecological inefficiency.
Some felids can submit, in addition, radical color change for the same individual (spectacular case of the golden cat, Heuvelmans 2007).
Periods of prosperity for tigers have allowed them a genetic richness expressed through various tricoloured combinations with the belly whiteness as only constant.
Karl Shuker, in the chapter « Multicolored tigers » of his book « Mystery cats of the world ». 1989. Robert Hale eds., mentions many observations of particular coats in tigers.
The « classical » orange/brown as dominant colour in tiger fur covers indeed, according to regions, life areas, and individual differences, the whole spectrum of « Red family », from pale yellow to dark brown.
Stripes are often heavily contrasted, but sometimes elusive and even invisible.
So, some unstriped brown individuals are recorded. Their coat was almost « lion – like ».
Strong contrast appears to be, historically, a credible secondary adaptation to forests and arid openfields : original swampy tigers might be rather greyish/yellowish with weakly contrasted stripes of same (but lightly darker) colours (like those of their lions’ancestors).
Albinism in tigers is rare. Some cases of creamy, red- eyed, elusively striped individuals are known.
Most famous amongst white tigers are blue eyed mutants (so that are not true albinos). Some of them lived in the wild in India, China and Korea.
Other individuals are pallid red.
Today, the breeding of white tigers with blue eyes is widely strenghtened by many parks all over the world. Restricted in the asian wild, demography of american, australian and european white tigers is clearly in expansion, but with significant problems about health for many individuals.
Some individuals are wholly and unstriped.
Others have both yellow, red and pale brown stripes (on a single body).
In his novel « Gobi desert », french writer Pierre Benoit had imaginated the existence of an immense unstriped white tiger with emerald eyes.
Melanism is quite rare in tigers, and results from stripes expansion and convergence (like ocelles of melanistic jaguars or leopards and spots of melanistic cheetahs).
Similipal national park, in Orissa, seems to be a genetic matrix of melanistic tigers as some individuals are regularly observed in this region at least since several decades.
A particular case of « light » melanism is this of the ultra rare blue tiger, punctually observed in southern China in september 1910 (a testimonial book was written in 1925 by the observer). Later observations were realized in Korea and Burma (informations also on web site « mutant big cats »).
Jose Luis Borges has written « Blue tigers » in 1983, where he describes both the dream and the initiatic quest of a scottish professor in India in 1904, searching blue tigers discovered in a village of Ganga delta…
Shuker has taken many detailed informations on black and blue tigers.
« Khaki » fur of eastern turkish tigers mentioned by Tim Cahill (2002) is not the true color of this animal but the probable result of the prolonged staying in slimy waters of river boardings.
Moreover, tigers fur in aquatic zones are sometimes muddy, partially covered by wet leaves which takes the animal even more elusive.
VOLUME : a cat of big format
Tiger is usually considered as the biggest cat. In the past up to recent times, big continental males could excess 300 kgs, particularly in northern regions of his distribution.
Like in other pantherines, extraordinary huge individuals sometimes occur in the wild.
It seems to have been the case on Chin – Do island (Southwestern Korea) at the end of the 19th century, and furthermore in Orissa (immense black tiger between 1952 and 1967).
Some captive males can sometimes approach 400 kgs (at least two recorded cases).
Pieter Matthiessen (1999) mentions the case of a Siberian tiger inside a canadian ranch that approached a half – ton.
Indeed, the biggest recorded wild feline of all times was an american lion (as already mention higher (« reproduction and hybridization »), and biggest captive feline today are male ligers. Perhaps wild male ligers born from american « siberian » tigresses and american lions had been the true biggest feline.
By combination in a single animal of stripation processes, tricoloured or multicoloured furs, and huge size, tigers are a marvellous natural miracle, and their lost could be definitive and irreplaceable (even after tens of millions years, and despite mechanisms of convergence that could’nt be effective upon so numerous cruised extraordinary parameters.
Evolution of tiger geographic distribution : a fantastic history
CONTINENTAL MOSAÏCS OF BIG TERRESTRIAL PREDATORS
Tiger distribution has widely fluctuated during the two million years of existence of the species, in correlation with climatic and ecological factors, amongst them compatibility or competition towards other dominant predators, like bears and leopards, but firstly adaptation to pressure imposed by social species (human beings, lions, social canids - dholes in India, wolves in Russia -).
Up to recently, Europa, Russia and North America were the countries of bears and wolves (human beings excluded), oriental Asia was that of tigers, Africa that of lions, and southern America that of jaguar.
Competitive pressure of high level by a dominant and social species of predators (particularly lions during Pleistocene and most of all human beings since Holocene -inducing higher competition between other spaces in many cases-) has been a determining element in constitution and change of predators’ ecological mosaïcs.
Concerning Europa, Russia and Northern America, continental compatibility between « big » solitary bears and « medium – sized » social wolves result from different ecological preferenda and consequently reduced competition. There is no or poor reciprocal deterring process, thus instances sometimes occur and can be spectacular.
During the Pleistocene period, lions were dominant not only in Africa but also in the major part of Eurasia (southern asian subtropical forests excluded) and in north and central America (and even South up to Peru). They were clearly deterrent for other social species like wolves, hyaenas and lycaons, as well as (and in a much stronger way) for solitary (or poorly social) species like leopards, bears, tigers and jaguars.
Wolves and bears were dominant nowhere, and tigers only in the most oriental regions of Asia, that were poorly compatible with lions’ ecology.
So, fluctuations of lion populations in Holarctic regions (septentrional Eurasia + North America) were determining in further distribution change of tigers, bears and wolves, as well as relationships’ nature to mankind, the new dominant, and then hyperdominant social species of predators.
Tigers and bears have been ecologically compatible everywhere they were both present, and many human populations throughout Eurasia were culturally structurated through a strong correlation between these two sacred animals (from Black Sea to Siberia and Korea).
Wolves have then replaced lions everywhere in Holarctic regions, but their deterring power towards bears and tigers were clearly weaker. Moreover, ecological context was clearly different as mankind was the true dominant species.
Since two centuries, these mechanisms have been hidden by human hyperdominance, but also, and on the contrary, in some particular circumstances, put in light by it, as it took life so difficult for other species that competitive behaviour between these increased strongly up to caricatural levels.
Thus, mosaïcation processes have been broken down by mankind hyperdominance also in opposite direction : instauration of compatibility between declining populations : lions and tigers were both present (with no competition) up to recent centuries in southern Russia, Iran and India. In the last case, lions’distribution was extraordinary larger than today.
THE TIGER ODYSSEY
Born in swampy areas of oriental China 2 millions years ago, tigers quickly expand both to the north and the south. They go to the North up to parallel 72th (Great and Small Lyakhov islands) as well as in western and eastern zones of same latitude (like Kamtchatka and Alaska). There were also present in Sakhaline and Japan very early (that were simple continental appendix during glacial periods).
They go to the South to indonesian present archipelago (but linked to asian continent during glacial periods) up to Borneo, and even probably Sulawesi.
In the same time, their western distribution was reduced (they were absent of occidental China).
From lower to upper Pleistocene, a succession of 17 glacial and interglacial periods occured.
It is today possible to emphasize correlations between changing climatic steps, biogeographical consequences, particularly creation or disappearance of subspecies or varieties.
Such a process can be refound for the last stage of upper Pleistocene/early Holocene.
Alas, we know (and will know) nothing about genetic connexion and disruption between geographical tiger populations occuring for the 16 more ancient glacial and interglacial periods of Pleistocene, from 2 millions years to 35 000 years ago. That seems that we know nothing of 95% of tiger’s evolutive History.
In any way, interglacial periods of upper Pleistocene were true golden ages for this species in oriental regions of Asia with immense circum arctic regions occupied areas. Anywhere else, tiger prosperity was strongly restricted by lions’ important presence.
At the end of last glacial period and beginning of Holocene era, human beings firmly established a superdominance amongst social predators, and lions submitted a tremendous breakdown on two continents (Eurasia and America), that have benefited to wolves, bears and tiger populations.
During the wet neolithic optimum (9000 – 6000 BP (before present)), occidental China, Mongolia and central Asia turned out in green huge areas, an immense lacustrine system from Baïkal to Mediterranean Sea occured, and tigers became quickly present in a geographical continuity from Kamtchatka to Danubia. A major part of russian territory was occupied. In addition, a few « Caspian » tigers, come from oriental mediterranean landscapes were perhaps present in oriental Africa.
Simultaneously, the end of glacial period induced a partial immersion of Sunda subcontinent resulting in indonesian archipelago creation, as well as Panthera tigris sundaïca as a subspecific genomic reality, due to isolation towards northern congeners. Many varieties of small island tigers develop at this period, from Sumatra to Sulawesi (East), Flores (South) and to the north up to Philippines archipelago and Formosa Island.
The post neolithic arid period (6000 – 3000 BP) drastically reduced eurasian tiger distribution (and perhaps snuffed their presence in Africa).
Creation of Taklamakan desert cuts connexions of occidental tigers with their oriental counterparts.
Caspian tigers, who occupied immense areas from occidental China to Danubia and and even perhaps nilotic regions in Africa, severely declined to a dendritic distribution correlated to boardings of some eurasian rivers and lakes.
A new subspecies « Panthera tigris virgata » was created, consequently to this isolation. This animal became one of the most extraordinary carnivores of all times, living in intimacy with eurasian human populations, besides villages and frequently inside them, up to the beginning of last century.
So, since the post neolithic arid period, 3 true subspecies were present in Eurasia : the major continental pool « Panthera tigris tigris » (from oriental Siberia to South East Asia), P.t. sundaïca (indonesian archipelago), P.t. virgata « Caspian tiger » (eurasian hydric areas. The third has been completely destroyed, officially in any case, during the twentieth century.
Historical relationships to mankind
Everywhere he had been present, tiger has been a (and in most cases the) key element of people culture and religion. He was a multisemantic symbol (power, death, beauty, prosperity, protection…).
Four great tiger cultures can be distinguished : the Siberian one, and the Suth Asian one, present at the pleistocene period. Then , the indian one (Holocene), that had, during the Antiquity, a great influence on the South Asian civilization, and a major role of preservation for tigers during the historic times.
Endly, the central asian one : Turks and Scyths pastors are fascinated by wild Naturen and their art expresses a true « felinolatry ».
The most ancient tiger cultures were active at least several tens of thousands years ago both in north and south Asia : one of them took place in prehistorical oriental Siberia and northern part of oriental China. She had an enormous influence on chinese, korean and japan historical civilizations, as well as those of occidental America (North to South).
Jaguar and puma cults in America are credibly substitutive to tiger cult for american pionners of siberian origin.
From this point of view, China has realized the strongest tiger culture in the world, with innumerable cultural products. It has been the cross – road of the four great civilizations concerned by tiger cult.
In a first time, siberian culture fertilized north – estern China.
In a second time, the south asian one had the same influence on south eastern China. Modifications secondary induced by indian culture had immediate effects in this région.
Endly , central Asia civilization influences chinese Turkestan and beyond, the whole occidental China.
Results of these successive cultural accretions are very numerous.
Kubilaï Khan, mongol emperor of China in the thirteenth century, and who homed Marco Polo, had enormous tigers that he used as hounds in imperial hunts (Manfredi in Thapar 2004).
The other one was an extremely complex tiger culture that took place in south eastern Asia (from southern China to Indonesia).
At this epoch, « binomic » cults occured in many regions, like lion/bear in occidental Europa. Much later, analogous associations took place like jaguar/puma in some particular areas of central America (Magni 2003), lion/tiger in India, and bear/tiger from oriental Europa to Siberia and Korea.
The bear cult of Aïnous in Hokkaïdo (northern Japan) is probably the defective one of a prehistoric tiger/bear cult also in place (for the same population) in Sakhaline.
Lonely bear cult in occidental Europa follows the prehistoric lion/bear one.
Two additional great tiger cultures have emerged during the Holocene.
Indian civilization developed a specific relationships to tigers based on intimacy, that will influence and solidify south asian civilization. In a second time, these two cultures become almost identical in their relations to tigers.
Nature and influence of indian culture has been the chief factor in historic times for prosperity of tigers’ populations until recent centuries in the whole southern Asia, south China included.
If China has been the first « formal » tiger culture, India is the first « real » one.
At last, nomadic civilizations, from mongols to western scyths, from central Asia to oriental Europa, built a complex ideology of predator culture where different species interact, and particularly tigers and leopards, who were considered, as « road » or « travelling » animals (following migrating boar herds) as shepherds like humans.
The central asian art expresses atrue « felinolatry ». Lions, leopards, tigers, mythical felines are everywhere in cultural products.
Two mummies of the Pazyryk funeral complex (russian Altaï) have the skin covered with tatoos
illustrating blue and red tigers.
1500 years later, in the Registan of Samarkand, precizely where Timur had built a pyramid with skulls of his victims, the Sher Dor madrassa was erected, with two immense, sharply coloured, cosmophagous tigers…
Enormous fluctuations in relationships (from intimacy to heavy conflicts) between human communities of the 4 concerned civilizations and tigers occur in correlation with social change in the formers, and adaptation to them of the latters.
In protohistoric times, tiger populations were severely damaged in northern China and India by important change in human practices, and particularly replacement of forests and wild open areas by settlements.
Then, tigers were rather persecuted and destroyed by settlers in China, contrarily to India and South Asia where equilibrate relations could occur. Hunters/gatherers communities had tiger cults every where in Asia.
Progressively, the general rule was persecution of tigers by strong states or empires’ agents and attempts of equilibrium with him by populations (villagers as well as forest tribes).
Shepherd cultures of central Asia fight against predators to protect their herds, but in the same time, they respect them for their bravery.
In Caucasus, villagers live in immediate and tolerant proximity with tigers up to the last century.
In any way, the great eurasian steppe was both a remarkable matrix and refuge for animal species and shepherd civilizations preserve this biodiversity as they detered settlements and cities implantations.
In China as well as India, tremendous social break down (that pushed dynasties to their death with drastic losses in populations) induced strong prosperity for tigers and much more predational behaviour towards human beings than usually. Chinese province governors’ first work was « expulsing tigers ».
In India, several hundreds of thousand people died killed by tigers during the english domination period. More generally, persecuted tigers by chinese dynasties, Moghul emperors, and then, most of all, by european occupers, turned their anger towards villagers who tried since millenaries to live with them on good relational basis.
In a first time, local people were shocked and disgusted by european crualty and brutality against wild animals and firstly tigers. But exposed for a long time to the change of behaviour of the big cat, they endly had the final perception of europeans (firstly russians, english men and french men) as « liberators » of the tiger threat. This episod ended the time of dominant tiger cultures.
But a chinese proverb says : « When there is no more tiger, monkeys are kings of the mountain » and Rudyard Kipling, in Jungle book, puts in Mowgli’s mouth the following words : « I danse on the skin of Shere Khan and I cry… My heart is heavy of things I don’t understand ».
Europeans (from Brest to Vladivostok) have destroyed 95% of asian tiger populations (300 000) and disrupted relations of local people with the survivors.
They have also eradicated their own tiger, Panthera tigris virgata, one of the three subspecies of this animal,in a process that constitutes, ecologically speaking, the worst genocide of twentieth century.
In whole Asia, perhaps 10 000 to 15 000 wild tigers stayed alive at the end of the second world war.
Then, asian demographic dynamics inducing capture or replacement of tiger territories correlated with pejorated relationships with the animal have been fatal to island tigers (P.t. sundaïca is now relictual) and it’s a miracle that perhaps 1000 continental wild tigers are still alive (winter 2008) : 10% of their number in 1950, 0,2% of their number at the beginning of 18th century.
It also proves than even decapitated, tiger cultural fund stays alive in deepness of collective psychology.
But wild animals traffic puts quickly the species (through the few individuals still present, particularly in India) to death.
Official « protection » of tigers had been nothing to see with a true one, during 25 years (1983 – 2008). There were many announces, but little facts.
Men and tigers are artificially separated, and then entered in competition for territories. Furthermore, tiger trade induces inumerable complicities. During two decades, officials have falsified numbers of tigers for public international opinion.
In India, even if government now considers the situation as almost desperate and seems to be ready to act, more realistic sources for hope are to find in individual original operations, realized in particular territories, and that give good results.
Indian rior protection plans were quite similar to past Caspian tiger protection plan :
In Russia (1947 -1964) natural reserves were too small with too weak tugai vegetation : no more than 20 of these tigers were still present in these russo - iranian « protected zones » (a bit like russo-koreo-chinese protective zones for siberian tigers today) in 1964 and any effort was abandoned in the facts.
In Turkey in 1975, official informations indicated that there were less than 100 caspian tigers in anatolian region but their number seems to slightly increase !
Five years later, the animal was officially declared extinct ( !) and infact, fur trade to mid - orient of relictual individuals continue up to 1984 ; this traffic was then disrupted by the PKK war (Cahill 2002).
Nowadays, nobody knows how many wild tigers are still alive in Asia (between several hundreds and two thousands).
There are several tens of thousands tigers in captivity worldwide (perhaps near 40 000). Amongst them, the 6000 breeding tigers of chinese tiger farms are of course the most famous. But still more numerous are tigers present in homes of private persons in Europa, America, Australia, South Africa… So, it can be counted more than 12000 pet tigers in USA – with 5000 individuals for Texas alone -, and perhaps 6000 pet tigers in Russia and central Asia.
What can save tigers
Of course : a strong political will will be a key element, catalyzed by vigorous and original initiatives of associations
Reconstruction of tiger cultures country by country on renovated basis will be also of fundamental importance, through official educational structures.
But nothing serious could occur without the retrocession of large green (or even greened) connected territories by important greenways for relictual wild tigers and rewilded captive tigers through specific plans (George Adamson had demonstrated this possibility with lions in 1970 years, and several other experiments have been later successful) : From this point of view, the birth, on November 23rd 2007, of a viable cub from a china tigers’ couple (a variety who had never have successful breeding in captivity up to now) for a unique rewilding experiment in South Africa is a decisive step to credibilize such plans.
Cruised and common plans can be initiated between :
China, India and Indonesia
China, Russia and Korea
America, Japan and Russia
Europa and Russia/central asian republics
USA, Europa and South Africa
And even USA and Argentina : Patagonia would be the good place to bring to life again social tiger packs as an avatar of prehistoric enormous social saber - toothed Smilodon…
Endly, and perhaps first of all, an equal protection for LIONS will be determing . As probable ancestors of tigers, they must benefit of particular care for their survival in the long term. Genetic and behavioral processes show that lions and tigers’ important populations are infact indispensable to each other in term of future security for the two species.
Wild tigers must be present in the wild on several continents. It’s the only and ultimate solution for their future and beyond that, a good catalyzor for a new equilibrium between human beings and wild animals.