Classification and Range
The Malayan tiger belongs to the family Felidae which contains 36 cat species. The genus Panthera includes the four “big cats” - tiger, lion, leopard and jaguar. Of the nine tiger sub-species only five highly endangered sub-species remain - Amur/Siberian (P.t. altaica), Bengal/Indian (P.t. tigris), Indochinese (P.t. corbetti), Sumatran (P.t. sumatrae), and Malayan (P.t. jacksoni). In 2003/4 genetic testing showed DNA differences between northern and southern Indochinese tigers. Thus the Malayan tiger became a separate sub-species in 2004.
Historically tigers ranged throughout Asia from the Caspian region into Central Asia, most of South and Southeast Asia, and East Asia and Siberia. Today their dramatically reduced range is limited to 13 countries in scattered areas of the Indian sub-continent, Southeast Asia, Sumatra, China and the Russian Far East. The Malayan tiger is endemic to southern and central Malay Peninsula. This includes only peninsular Malaysia and its border area with the southern tip of Thailand.
Tigers use a great variety of habitats as long as three essential elements exist—dense vegetation, water access, and sufficient prey base. Malayan tigers mostly inhabit lowland forests including tropical rain, deciduous and evergreen forests; and taiga coniferous and broadleaf woodlands. On the Malay Peninsula, at least 45% of forest cover remains and provides suitable tiger habitat. Streams and rivers cut through vast tropical and sub-tropical rainforests which extend from lowlands to over a mile high. The heat, humidity and rainfall promote high diversity of plant and animal life including many tiger prey species.
Size varies greatly with latitude and altitude. The largest tigers in the wild are high altitude Bengal/Indian and far northeastern Amur/Siberian tigers. The smallest tigers inhabit the southern tropical island of Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula.
In coloration all possess the characteristic tiger striping with lighter tawny underbody and white markings highlighting the face and chest plus a distinctive spot behind the ears. Width and number of stripes vary between subspecies with more and narrower stripes in smaller southern tigers. Patterns also vary between individuals. Coloration varies with darker, more vibrant orange found in Indochinese and Malayan tigers.
Head and Tail Length
Malayan subspecies: 7 - 8 feet (2 - 2.4 m)
Malayan subspecies: average male 200 - 260 pounds (91 - 118 kg) female 220 pounds (100 kg)
8 to 10 years in the wild; up to 18-20 years in zoos.
In the wild: Carnivorous.. The prey base in the Malay Peninsula includes sambar and barking deer, wild boar and bearded pigs, sun bear, tapir, elephant calves, and domestic livestock. They will eat carrion.
At the zoo: Commercially prepared carnivore diet, chicken, rabbit; beef knuckle bones; treats of trout, chicks and turkey.
Reproduction: Single Motherhood
Sexual maturity in females occurs between 3 to 4 years of age and in males from 4 to 5 years. Mature tigers possess their own territories which they claim for life. A male’s territory overlaps those of prospective mates from one to seven females. A female’s territory abuts those of other females, often related to her, for example mother and daughter. Mating occurs throughout the year especially in tropical regions;. Females enter estrus every three to nine weeks and remain receptive for three to six days. During the few days of breeding, the pair mates very frequently and very briefly.
Solitary motherhood faces the female. Gestation lasts 95 to 112 days (average 103). She finds a secluded den and gives birth usually to two or three cubs. The tiny altricial (totally helpless) cubs weight about two pounds (0.9 kg). Around 7-10 days the cubs’ eyes open and the first teeth emerge. Cubs first leave the den within 2 months. They continue to nurse as a source of food up to 3-4 months; they may continue to nurse for comfort for longer periods of time... At five to six months, the cubs begin to accompany the mother on hunts. They do not hunt alone until 18 - 30 months when they are ready to leave and seek their own territory.
Life style: Mostly Solitary, but Not Anti-Social
Tigers, like most wild felines, live predominantly solitary lives. Social interaction between tigers occurs in the form of scratch marks, and urine and feces scent deposits clearly announce territorial boundaries. Multiple scent glands located between toes, by the tail and anus, and around the head offer additional information. The toe scent markings allow cubs to track their mothers. A variety of vocalizations provides further communication. Snarls, hisses and roars send warnings, growls indicate territory or mating calls, chuffs and moans mean greetings or contentment, and squeals and wails come from cubs to their mothers.
Tigers interact more than once believed. In addition to the short breeding season, a male may join a former mate with his cubs for feeding and rest periods. However, infanticide of other males’ cubs is the leading cause of young tiger mortality. Cubs remain with their mothers between 1.5 to 2.5 years. Two females with cubs seen sharing meals together are probably mother and adult daughter with overlapping territories. Avoidance, however, appears to be the rule rather than the exception.
Hunting: Built to Kill
Tigers possess excellent hunting characteristics. Longer hindlimbs power long distance leaps and charges. Heavily muscled forelimbs and shoulders, and paws equipped with long retractable claws enable tigers to grasp prey. The tiger’s weight combines with a charge’s momentum to take down large animals. Powerful jaws and long canines deliver killing bites. Throat holds on bigger animals cause suffocation, while bites to the nape of smaller ones snap vertebrae. Tigers have keen eyesight and acute hearing useful in hunting during dawn, dusk or night.
Tiger hunting strategy depends on stealth and dense cover. Superb striped camouflage combined with great patience and silent stalking .Tigers attain speeds up to 35 miles an hour but are capable of short charges. The final rush only results in success one out of 10 to 20 attempts. The tiger eats after dragging the carcass to a secluded area. Tigers can consume up to 90 pounds (41 kg) of meat, though an average meal is less. Afterwards, they cover the carcass to conceal it from scavengers, and return for later feedingsTypically, they make kills once or twice a week.
Location at the Zoo
At Woodland Park Zoo, Malayan tigers inhabit the Banyan Wilds exhibit in the Tropical Asia zone. This zone also includes sloth bears, Asian small-clawed otters, orangutans, siamang, lion-tailed macaques, Indian python, Malayan tapirs, Visayan warty pigs and many bird species.
All tigers are listed as endangered on Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), IUCN Red List and the U.S. Endangered Species List. The decline in numbers continues precipitously. In 1900 an estimated 100,000 tigers existed. In 1998 the estimates fell between 5,000 to 7,600. By 2011 only an estimated 3,200 tigers remained in the wild.
Many more tigers live in captivity. China has the largest captive population around 6,000 tigers and the U.S. has about 5,000. The tigers owned by private individuals are predominantly hybrid and often inbred animals. In the U.S. many states ban exotic and endangered species, such as tigers, as pets; other states operate with federal or state controls; but eight states have virtually no regulations. Approximately 95% of captive tigers in the U.S. are privately held and often not in good circumstances.
In contrast, accredited zoos and aquariums operate under Association of Zoos and Aquariums guidelines for animal husbandry and breeding. The Species Survival Plan (SSP) does not support breeding of “generic,” mostly Bengal/Indian hybrids. The SSP recommends breeding of three subspecies populations: Amur/Siberian, Sumatran and Malayan. WPZ successfully bred Sumatran tigers in the past and plans in the long-term to join other zoos in breeding of Malayan tigers.
Tigers in the wild face multiple threats. Expansion of human activities, such as agriculture, logging, and road building, both reduce and fragment tiger habitat. Habitat loss reduces the tiger prey base resulting in increased human-tiger conflict. Persecution due to livestock loss, hunting for trophy items, and poaching for tiger parts seriously add to the problem. Body parts of over 1,000 tigers entered the tiger parts trade in the past ten years.
Malayan tigers in the wild face the same dire threats; however, recognition as a separate subspecies focused national attention on this endemic icon. The Malaysian government gave “totally protected status” to tigers in the 1970’s; and conservation efforts increased significantly after 2004. The Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) promotes anti-poaching and smuggling, and less use of traditional “tiger medicine.” Protected areas and national parks exist; however, a large majority of tigers live outside of them. The 2008 Tiger Action Plan protects and expands three large core areas and combats habitat fragmentation with connecting ecological corridors.
The Global Tiger Recovery Program coordinates international action which includes all 13 tiger range countries to save tigers before it is too late. WPZ combines its efforts with Panthera, Perhilitan (Malaysia’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks), and two small but effective NGOs (MYCAT and RIMBA) in the Greater Taman Negara Region of peninsular Malaysia, one of the priority tiger landscapes.
How You Can Help!
The effort to save endangered species requires cooperation and support at the international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. Please do not buy products made from wild animal parts. Contact Woodland Park Zoo at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out about ways you can support conservation programs at the zoo. Discover more about endangered tigers by calling The Tiger Information Center at 1-800-5TIGERS or at their Web site http://www.5tigers.org. Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and the habitats they require for survival by visiting our How You Can Help page.