Did you know the tiger that you and I know of is just one of the 10 different subspecies of Panthera tigris found in 13 countries around the world? These subspecies originated from one genetic source but due to environmental, ecological and climatic variations, they have all now been genetically varied.
Their physical appearance is more or less the same but many things differ. For example, while the Malayan tiger at 50 kg (male) and 24 kg (female) can be as tiny as a small leopard, the Siberian tiger can be humungous, with its weight going up to 306 kg.
Also, out of the 10 subspecies, five are present in the wild and one in captivity, while four are now extinct from planet earth. Of these four extinct subspecies — Trinil tigers of the Indonesian islands became extinct during the prehistoric period about 50,000 years ago. Two more subspecies — Bali and Javan — also became extinct from the islands of Indonesia in this century. Bali saw its last tiger in 1937 and Javan in 1970.
The Caspian tiger, the only subspecies found in Europe, was also once the most widely distributed tiger subspecies in the world. It is, however, now extinct from 12 countries — Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Georgia, China and Mongolia. The last Caspian tiger was sighted in the Takla Makan desert in China’s Xinjiang province back in 1970.
In the existing six tiger subspecies, the Indian tiger, p t tigris, is found mainly in four countries — India, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh. This is the most common tiger species and their numbers are 2,400 to 2,500 in the wild.
India alone has 1,706 tigers as per the last scientific tiger population estimate. Bangladesh has the third largest tiger population in the world, and IUCN reports indicates that 440 tigers exist there, but experts feel that the ground reality could be different. Nepal is doing well, though, and a survey in the five main protected areas and three wildlife corridors of the country revealed that number of tigers had increased 63 per cent from 121 in 2009 to 198 in 2013.
The Indo-Chinese subspecies (P t corbeti), is present in Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. Their total number, however, is not beyond 350. China lost its Caspian tigers in the early days, but the South China tiger (P t amoyensis) is another of its subspecies to have possibly gone extinct from the wild. According to records, there are only 65 of these tigers in captivity.
The Malayan tiger, (P t jacksoni), is found mainly in Malaysia, and was recently de-classified from the Indo-Chinese tiger category on the basis of genetic diversity. The discoverer named it on the famous tiger conservationist, Peter Jackson. The Sumatran tiger (P t sumatrae), is considered the second largest population after Indian tigers. They are mainly found on three islands of Sumatra-Indonesia and their number is between 400-500. The largest in size is the Siberian tiger (p t altica) found in far eastern Siberia and their present number is about 330 to 400.
So you see, the total world tiger count is a paltry 4,000. Of this, we in India have the maximum population — 43.21 per cent. Thus, we have the maximum responsibility to save them and nurture them.