Geographical Range Eastern Russia, northeastern China, northern regions of North Korea
Habitat Forests, bush-covered mountains
Scientific Name Panthera tigris altaica
Conservation Status Endangered

Colossal Kitties

Tigers are the biggest cats in the world, and Amur tigers are the biggest subspecies (type) of tigers. They stand about three feet tall at the shoulder. This isn't quite as tall as a lion, but Amur tigers are longer and usually weigh more. Adult males can grow up to 11 feet long and weigh over 600 pounds; females are smaller -- up to nine feet long and about 370 pounds. Now those are some big kitties!

Cold-Climate Cats

Amur tigers live in a harsh environment, where extremely cold temperatures and deep snow are common. Their body is well-adapted to the cold climate. Take their large size, for instance. A big animal conserves heat better than a small one, so it's no surprise that Amur tigers are larger than other tiger subspecies, which live in warmer areas.

Besides being big, Amur tigers have other "built-in" ways to conquer the cold. They have a layer of fat (on their flanks and belly) that helps protect them from the elements. Their coats help, too: their fur is thick and long (especially during the cold winter months). And like most tigers, Amur tigers have a ruff of fur around their neck. This "scarf" is more developed in Amur tigers than in any other subspecies. Finally, these cats have built-in "snow boots" -- extra fur on the paws to protect them from the cold snow.

Like all tigers, their coat is golden-orange with dark stripes. They also have some patches of white on their belly, chest, throat, and muzzle. Compared with other kinds of tigers, Amur tigers have more white in their coat and fewer stripes.

Big Game Hunters

Amur tigers' large size gives them an advantage when hunting their favorite prey -- big animals such as the wild boar, elk, and roe deer. Since one big prey animal provides the same nutrition as several small animals, it's no surprise that large prey makes up the bulk of tigers' diet. Even so, tigers do snack on a variety of smaller critters, including birds, fish, and mice.

Tigers travel great distances in search of food, and they hunt at any time of day or night. They're not great runners, and they rarely chase their prey very far. Instead, they approach their target stealthily, taking cover behind trees, rocks, or bushes. The cats get as close as possible before pouncing on their unsuspecting victim.

When it comes time to dispatch their prey, tigers use one of two methods. (Note: the following description is not for the faint of heart!) If it's a small animal, they kill it with a bite to the back of the neck, breaking the spinal cord. If it's a large animal, they kill it by suffocating it with a bite to the throat.

A large kill may provide food for several days, depending on whether it's eaten by one tiger or several (usually a mother and her offspring).

Making Little Tigers

When a female tiger is ready to mate, she attracts males by roaring and spraying "marking fluid," a fragrant musk. Eager males smell and hear the female, and seek her out in hopes of mating. If several males approach, a bloody battle is likely to ensue.

The winning male now has another situation to contend with: the female's "fickle" behavior. She acts eager one moment, rolling on the ground in front of the male, and aggressive the next, spitting and striking him with her claws. Since the male needs to be accepted by the female, he doesn't retaliate, but patiently courts her.

About three-and-a-half months after mating, the female is ready to give birth. Prior to the event, she will find a sheltered spot -- either a cave, a dense thicket, or a depression in thick grass. There she gives birth to her kittens (the average litter size being three). The babies are tiny, each weighing just two or three pounds.

The kittens stay near the den for their first few weeks of life, but by the time they're two months old, they start following mom when she goes in search of food. Over the next several months, the youngsters learn to hunt for themselves through imitation and practice. They become independent when they're one-and-a-half to two years old.

Young females are ready to breed by the time they're three years old. Males are ready to breed at about the same age, or a year later.

Solitary -- but Not Anti-Social

Except for mothers and their dependent young, tigers generally live alone in their individual home range. A male usually defends a large territory (up to 4,000 square miles!) that overlaps the ranges of multiple females.

Though they spend most of their time alone, tigers are not really anti-social. They keep in contact by a variety of methods.

Scent marking may be the most important way tigers communicate. Both males and females spray "marking fluid" (often mixed with urine) onto upright objects. They may also deposit scent from their anal glands. These fragrant "calling cards" provide important information about the animal that left them -- individual identity, gender, breeding status, and the time the mark was made.

Tigers also "talk" by leaving each other visual cues. These include scrapes (marks made by raking the ground with the hind feet), claw marks, and feces. Another important visual cue is the tiger itself. Since every tiger has a unique pattern of stripes, it's likely that individuals identify each other, at least in part, by their appearance.

Besides visual signals and smells, tigers communicate through sounds. They have a wide range of vocalizations, including a roar, growl, snarl, grunt, moan, spit, hiss -- even a meow. Different sounds are used for different situations (like the roar sounded by females when they're ready to mate).

So even though tigers are loners, they do keep in touch!

Disappearing Stripes

There were once eight subspecies of tigers. Today, three are extinct. Three others are critically endangered, including the Amur tiger.

It's estimated that only 350 to 450 Amur tigers survive in the wild. Besides being reduced in number, their range has been reduced. Once, they lived throughout much of Siberia and surrounding areas, and for this reason they were often called Siberian tigers. Today, with their reduced range, they're no longer found in Siberia or called by that name. (Their "new" name comes from the Amur River, which flows through the middle of their current, reduced range in Russia.)

The biggest threat facing Amur tigers is habitat loss due to logging. As they lose habitat, they lose prey, which means they sometimes turn to domestic livestock for food. This makes them unpopular with ranchers, who may shoot them as pests.

And tigers are killed for other reasons: they're hunted for their meat and skins as well as their bones, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Poaching of tigers has become an increasing problem in recent years, and it's taking a heavy toll on these mighty cats.

Fortunately, there are efforts to help Amur tigers in the wild. Work is underway to create a network of protected areas. And to battle the poaching problem, there are efforts to establish more effective law enforcement and anti-poaching squads.

How can you help these endangered cats? Don't buy products made from tigers, and encourage your friends and family to do the same. And when you buy wood products, make sure the timber was harvested without destroying tigers' habitat. Check out the web site of the Forest Stewardship Council for help in finding forest-friendly products. Your actions can make a difference!

Fun Facts

  • Tigers are the only large wild cats with stripes.
  • The stripe patterns of a tiger are not symmetrical from one side of the animal to the other.
  • Tigers rarely climb trees -- but they can!

Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae