Tiger, largest member of the cat family and the only cat with striped fur. Perfectly designed predators, tigers possess beauty, grace, and awesome power. Their presence in the wild, revealed by a throaty roar (chrapľavý rev) or a track on a dusty trail, electrifies the forest and sends shivers down the spines of all who share its space. Humans admire tigers as much as they fear them and the animals figure prominently in Asian myths, religions, arts, and imagination. Tigers were once found throughout the forested regions of tropical and temperate Asia. Excessive hunting and destruction of tiger habitat have now narrowed the tiger’s range to a few isolated patches throughout Asia. Many people have organized local and international conservation organizations to prevent tigers from becoming extinct.
Among the 36 cat species, tigers are most closely related to lions, leopards, and jaguars. These cats evolved from a common ancestor that was probably similar to modern leopards or jaguars and lived more than 5 million years ago. The earliest fossils clearly identified as those of tigers are about 2 million years old. These fossils were found in central Asia, eastern and northern China, Siberia, Japan, Sumatra, and Java.
Range and Habitat
Tigers are territorial—they live alone in large areas that they defend from other tigers. The ideal tiger territory is a large forested area with rich vegetation for cover, plentiful water to drink and cool off in, and abundant deer, swine, and other large mammals to eat. With these three essentials, tigers can thrive in diverse habitats and climates including hot, tropical rain forests in Sumatra and Southeast Asia; cool oak and pine forest in the Amur River Valley in far eastern Russia; tall grass jungles in India and Nepal; coastal mangrove forests in Bangladesh; and mountain slopes in Bhutan.
In the past scientists classified tigers into eight subspecies based on variations in size, coat color, and striping. However, a re-evaluation (znovu zhodnotenie) of these physical characteristics and recent genetic studies show there is little reason to divide living tigers into separate subspecies. All tigers are nearly identical both genetically and physically. Some scientists suggest making a distinction between the island tigers (now found only in Sumatra) and the tigers that live in mainland Asia, since island tigers live in a different habitat without any opportunity to breed with another population of tigers. Over many generations, these isolated populations will likely evolve genetic differences from their mainland counterparts.
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