a students' magazine

A voracious predator

The tiger (scientific name: Panthera tigris) is the biggest cat species in nature and one of the most dangerous predators; the name comes from “tigris”, a word that derives from the Persian language and that means “arrow”, probably referring to the incredible speed (about 65 km/h) that the tiger can reach, for brief distances, while it’s chasing a prey.

The skeleton of a very similar feline, the Panthera palaeosinensis, dating back to 2 million years ago, has been found in China and Java, where the remains of “true tigers”, belonging to an extinct subspecies, the Trinil tiger, were also found. After this period the tiger spread throughout Asia, from  India to  Japan and Borneo.

Tigers have a strong and muscular body, but the feature that  most characterizes them from the other felines is their particular coat pattern, made up of dark stripes usually on an orange coat; each tiger has its own, unique pattern as us,  humans, have our own fingerprints; for this reason, the word  tiger is  often used to indicate also all those species (as sharks and mosquitoes), whose aspect is characterized by stripes as those of the tiger.

Tigers are fierce hunters that can rely on a good sense of hearing and of sight. Thanks to their eyes  they can move without any difficulty during the night;  in fact, tigers hunt for food from sunset until dawn; their favorite preys are wild pigs, monkeys, birds and fish; occasionally, when they are really hungry, they hunt  bigger and heavier animals, such as elephants and rhinoceros that they catch with the technique of ambush, i.e. , they silently approach  the prey from behind,  flattening on the ground, and when they are quite near they jump on it very fast! Then they kill the unlucky animal by biting it on the throat and breaking  its vertebrae, in order to provoke a quick death; they’re very voracious animals, in fact  they can eat even 40 kilograms for “dinner ”!

To collect all the energy necessary to hunt, tigers spend 80%  of the day sleeping;  they’re lonely animals that  don’t share  their lands with others, in fact they are used to marking the territory by scratching on the trees and by secreting urine and other hormones.

Differently from the other felines, tiger aren’t used to climbing on trees; moreover, they are very attracted by  lakes and rivers,  they’re able to swim and  they can  keep on chasing their prey  even  under water ; it’s  also very common to see them while  they’re having a bath when the weather is really hot.

The period of life of a tiger at the wild state is of about 10 years and a tigress, which is ready for  reproduction at the age of 4 years , can give birth to 2 or 4 cubs that it has to feed, to protect and to teach how to hunt until they are 2 years old.

The tiger is a very adaptable animal: in fact it can live in over 200 natural habitats, from  the Siberian woods of conifers  to the rain forests  in the south-east of Asia and to the Indian jungle; all these habitats, even though really different and sometimes opposite in their climatic conditions, share 2 very important features that induce the animal to choose these places instead of others: a great  availability of water and big preys and  the presence of dens and of  thick vegetation that allows  the tiger to have a rest and to camouflage while it’s waiting for preys.

Tigers are considered “alpha predators” (i.e.,  they are not the prey of other predators, being at the top of the “food circle”) but unfortunately their only enemy, man, is leading them to extinction: of the 9 species recognized, in fact, only 5 of them (the Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, Sumatran, Siberian and  South China tiger ) survive while 3 (the Bali, Caspian and  Caspian tiger) came to extinction during the second half of 20th century; specific enquiries have discovered that today only 3200 tigers exist in nature.

A Siberian Tiger

Their extinction is due to many factors: the population explosion, added to an increasing demand for wood aimed at the production of luxurious goods induced men to deforest large areas of the rain  forest; and this deforestation has caused not only the loss of the tiger natural habitat, but also an imbalance of the ecosystem, that involved  the disappearance of many preys hunted by the tiger; another important factor  is poaching, finalized at the illegal sale of some parts of body  of these poor beasts, first of all the coat, then their teeth, claws and even bones, that according to the Chinese traditional medicine have analgesic  and aphrodisiac effects (even though these are only popular beliefs that haven’t been scientifically proved).

Today the alarming data seem to have induced part of the public opinion to turn against the killings of the tigers and some governments , the Indian in particular, with the collaboration of associations fighting for animals’ rights like the WWF, have created natural reserves where tigers are protected and can live quietly in large spaces, hoping that the situation will get better in the next years.

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