Home on the Range
If you wanted to find a tiger, you might try looking in a rainforest. Or you might try a swamp. Of course you might also try looking in places with plenty of tall grass. A savanna would do quite nicely. Even a cold, frozen tundra would work. But even though tigers live in many climates, there is only one continent where you will find wild tigers. That continent is Asia. Tigers in the Wild
How many tigers are still living in the wild? That’s not an easy question to answer. Scientists think there were once one hundred thousand tigers living in Asia. That’s enough tigers to fill every seat in the Roman Colosseum twice. Today there are probably fewer than four thousand tigers still living in the wild, so the seats would be almost empty. To find the tigers that remain, be prepared to travel. There are only six subspecies (or types) of tigers left on Earth. But they don’t live in the same places.
Sumatran tigers live in tropical rainforests and mangrove swamps. Because Sumatra is an Indonesian island, these tigers don’t ever come in contact with other types of tigers.
Indochinese tigers are found in the evergreen forests and mountains of Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, and southern China. There might be tigers in Cambodia and Laos, but no one has seen any recently, so we don’t know for sure.
Malayan tigers live in dense, moist tropical forests and brush on a strip of land called the Malay Peninsula. It is surrounded by water on three sides and contains parts of Malaysia, Thailand, and Myanmar.
Siberian tigers (also known as Amur tigers) live in the north where it’s often cold and snowy. They make their homes in Chinese and Russian pine forests.
Sadly there are only a few South China tigers left on Earth. To keep them from becoming extinct, the few that remained were first moved to Chinese zoos for breeding. But the tigers did not thrive at the zoos. No cubs were born. Now they are being relocated to captive reserves, where they’ll live until they can be released into the wild. Combined, these five types of tigers are only a small fraction of the tigers still living in the wild. The rest live in India. In 2018, scientists counted almost three thousand Bengal tigers living in that country’s forests and grasslands. That’s three-quarters of all the wild tigers on the planet!
These tiger counts are estimates because scientists have found it difficult to count them. You may be wondering why. Well, Asia is gigantic! It contains 30 percent of all the land on our planet. At more than 17 million square miles, it’s so big it could hold two North Americas—or five Europes. If you spread the tigers out across the continent, there would only be one every 4,250 square miles. So finding those tigers is not easy to do. A Very Big Territory
But all that space isn’t so bad for the tigers! They are solitary creatures that live and hunt alone on land called a territory or home range. A male tiger’s home range overlaps with the home ranges of two or more female tigers. The male visits long enough to start a family then leaves to patrol his territory and hunt.
The size of each home range depends on how much food is available. If there are plenty of animals to hunt, the range might be as small as nineteen square miles, making those tigers easier to track.
If food is scarce, the range will be much larger. Siberian tigers have the largest home range, almost four thousand square miles. That’s partly because there aren’t a lot of people or cities to get in their way. Because their home range is so large, they might overlap with another home range. But you would rarely see two male tigers in the same place at the same time.
The right habitat provides shelter for raising a family. A female tiger, or tigress, raises her cubs by herself. To do this she creates a home called a den. The den might be in a cave or a hollow tree. Other times it will be in thick grass or a clump of small trees and shrubs. The den hides her cubs from predators (other animals that might harm them) while she is out hunting for food. If the den stops being safe, the tigress will use her mouth to grab each cub by the neck and carry them, one by one, to a new den.
So as you can see, finding a wild tiger is hard. They are constantly moving around to find shelter, to find safety and to find food! Meat for Dinner
In a typical week, you probably eat a variety of food groups. That makes you an omnivore. Tigers are carnivores. Their bodies do not need the fruits or vegetables that people eat to stay healthy. Instead, they eat as much as eighty pounds of raw meat in a single night. Meat protein helps tigers build and maintain strong muscles.
How does a tiger get that much meat? They’re apex predators. Apex predators are animals at the top of the food chain. They have few natural enemies.
When most tigers chase their prey (the animals they’re going to eat), they can run as fast as forty miles per hour. That’s faster than the speed of many cars on a city street. Siberian tigers are the fastest. They can run sixty miles per hour, which is about as fast as cars on some highways.
Even so, tigers weigh hundreds of pounds. All that weight makes it hard for them to run long distances. Instead, tigers are ambush hunters. They may hide behind a tree, a clump of tall grass or a group of large rocks until an animal passes by. They might follow their prey for up to a half hour. When the tiger gets close enough, it will sprint forward and pounce before the prey has a chance to escape. The tiger holds on to its prey’s neck until it stops breathing. If other predators are nearby, the tiger will drag its prey to a safe place to keep from having to share the meal.
Not all tigers eat the same animals. Remember, Asia contains many different habitats. A tiger in Sumatra might eat fish, monkeys, wild boar or deer. A tiger in Thailand might eat antelope, turtles and pigs. A Malayan tiger might eat all of those things plus elephant and rhinoceros calves.
Unfortunately for the tigers, not all hunts are successful. Scientists estimate that a tiger catches prey once out of every twenty attempts. Those are not great odds for a hungry tiger. When prey is scarce, tigers may sometimes eat insects like termites. A pound of termites contains more fat and protein than a pound of steak. But termites are tiny. It would be impossible to eat enough of them to satisfy a tiger’s appetite.
Have you ever heard someone say “man-eating tiger”? That’s an unfair label. Tigers rarely attack humans unless they are sick and too weak to hunt for their normal prey. Tigers mostly avoid us. To be on the safe side, some people wear masks on the back of their heads or hats with eyes when walking through an area where a tiger has been seen. This tricks the tiger into thinking the humans are always facing it, so there’s no opportunity to ambush them from behind. Champion Swimmers
In addition to meat, tigers also need water, and the best home ranges have large sources of fresh water for them to drink from. Tigers are also very good swimmers. Their powerful muscles and big, strong paws allow them to paddle long distances and catch fish without sinking. The webbing between their toes helps them to push the water away as they swim. If it is hot outside, water also helps them stay cool.
So be careful if you’re in a river or pond in a tiger’s home range—you may end up swimming with one of the most powerful cats in the world!
Copyright © 2022 by Chelsea Clinton. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.