Species Comparison: Siberian Tigers Are the Largest of the Big Cats
Antoneah Armour, age 14
Recently, I wrote an article for the Free Press about Bengal tigers. These large and beautiful cats live in southern Asia, mostly in India. Threatened by poachers and habitat loss, they are becoming extremely rare. Bengal tigers are among the largest of the big cats.
But they are not the biggest. Farther north in Asia, in the vast forests of Siberia, roams the largest of all living predatory cats: the Siberian tiger.
The average male Siberian tiger grows to about twelve feet long. It weighs between 400 and 650 pounds. Females are usually smaller than males.
The Siberian tiger occupies an unusually large territory. If food sources are abundant, the tiger may stay in the same territory for many years. But if prey is scarce, they often travel hundreds of miles seeking suitable habitat. One scientist recently tracked a Siberian tiger that traveled 620 miles in 22 days just to find food.
Both males and females mark their territory by scratching trees and urinating on them. The male defends all parts of his territory that he considers important, such as an area close to a female’s territory or an area that has a lot of food.
Siberian tigers work very hard when it comes to hunting. Only about one in ten hunting trips is successful. They mainly eat deer and wild pig, but also fish. The tiger grabs its prey by the neck while planting its back feet firmly into the ground. Depending on the prey, the tiger uses different bites. A nape bite will kill small prey instantly. Larger prey are a bit more difficult to kill because the tiger has to use suffocating bites to the throat. If a tiger misses its prey on the first pounce it will chase it for a maximum of 650 feet, but most likely will not catch it.
Just as when they mark their territory, females also urinate and scratch marks on trees when they are ready to mate. Tigers will mate anytime during the year, although females are only receptive for a period of three to seven days. A pair of breeding tigers will mate several times during this period. Then the male usually goes off in search of another female.
Cubs start hunting for themselves at less then a year old. They can kill large prey at two years old, but cubs don’t leave their mother until they’re three to five years old. They then start looking for their own territories and mates.
Although Siberian tigers are very strong animals, they are also an endangered subspecies. It is estimated that only about 200 are left in the wild.
About the same number of Siberian tigers currently live in captivity.
[Sources: Wildlife Fact File; National Geographic]