Tigers are among the most complex, fascinating and alluring members of the animal kingdom. They are revered and worshipped around the world as well as being a vital element of the world’s fragile ecosystem.
We know a lot about their diet, their behaviour and characteristics and their daily – and nocturnal – activities and if you want to know the top 10 facts about the tiger habitat, you’re in the right place.
1. Tigers Need Just Three Things
If you’re a tiger, habitat is everything and they need three fundamental elements to survive in the wild – food, water and shelter. Tigers need to live in areas that have rich sources of prey, easily accessible water, and shelter to provide concealment and a safe base from which to rear their young.
2. Where are Tigers Found?
Historically, the tiger habitat stretched from the Eastern European border and throughout Russia, much of Asia and the Indian subcontinent. The most commonly used statistic is that in 1900, there were around 100,000 wild tigers living in 30 countries. Today, the wild tiger population is understood to be less than 4,000 and 30 countries is down as low as 12 (it is believed that there are no more breeding tigers left in Vietnam and China). The countries which are still usually accepted as forming the wider tiger habitat today are:
- North Korea
3. Tigers Have a Diverse Range of Habitats
The tiger habitat is incredibly diverse. They live in different places with different characteristics –
Bengal tigers live in tropical, subtropical and temperate rainforests, as well as grasslands, wetlands and mangroves.
Siberian tigers mostly inhabit the dense coniferous, scrub oak and birch forests of the Russian Far East.
The Malayan tiger habitat is centred around the tropical central and northern Malaysian forests of Johor, Pahang, Kelantan, Perak and Terengganu.
Indochinese tigers live in the tropical rainforests of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar. They can also be found in grasslands and if food is scarce they will climb the foothills of the mountains to find prey.
On the island of Sumatra, Sunda tigers are found from the coastal lowland forests in the south to the dense mountainous forests in the north.
The South China tiger, historically covering huge swathes of the forested hills and mountains of southwest China, is now believed to be functionally extinct in the wild.
4. Tiger Habitats are Shrinking
Over the last 100 years, deforestation, habitat fragmentation and destruction, agricultural needs and development for roads and human settlements, have contributed to the loss of 93-96% of the world’s tiger habitat.
It may be no coincidence that in the same time period – including poaching – the global wild tiger population has decreased by 96% to under 4,000.
5. Most Wild Tigers are Found in India
Around 80% of the world’s wild tigers today are found in India.
In 1973, a tiger conservation programme was set up and there are over 50 protected areas covering 27,500 square miles designated tiger reserves. In 2004, there were 1,411 and the population has increased steadily, taking in counts in 2010 (1,706), 2014 (2,226) and 2018 (2,967).
The total global figure of wild tigers is thought to be around 3,900.
6. Siberian Tigers Know the Cold
One of the most inhospitable tiger habitats are the birch forests in the Russian Far East. Winter temperatures average -25 degrees Celsius and get down as far as -50 degrees Celsius on the Amur River banks. The Siberian tigers that inhabit the region are well equipped with a much longer and thicker coat in winter.
7. Sunda Tigers Swim to Stay Cool
The Sunda Island tiger habitat on the island of Sumatra is quite the opposite. The average temperature in June is 33 degrees Celsius and – because it’s close to the equator – humidity can hit 90%. The tigers tend to stay under the shaded cover of the dense rainforests and they are also excellent swimmers. Historically they would swim between islands to find food and mates – and are regularly spotted in lakes to cool down.
8. The Biggest Threat to Tiger Habitats is Human Interference
Unfortunately, the biggest threat to the survival of tigers in the wild is human interference – a factor that has led to the extinction of the Caspian, Bali and Javan tigers in the last seventy years and the South China tiger, potentially the first extinct tiger of the twenty-first century. The main threats are illegal poaching, locals protecting their livestock, agricultural development and over-hunted tiger prey. This forces them to attack farms, further fuelling the human-tiger conflict.
9. Climate Change Threatens Tiger Habitats
Another issue threatening tiger habitats is climate change. For example, the Sundurbans mangrove forests on the India-Bangladesh border are being slowly eroded by rising sea levels. There is a large Bengal tiger population (around 400) that call the Sundurbans home and there is a very real threat of the forests flooding, wiping out a major tiger habitat.
10. Illegal Tiger Farms are a Major Problem
The answer to the question ‘where do tigers come from’ may be very different a generation from now than it was 100 years ago.
According to recent figures from the World Wildlife Fund, there are around 8,000 tigers in captivity across East and Southeast Asia, mostly in China.
They can have a negative impact on the future of tigers as they highlight a demand for the illegal trade in tiger products, as well as the tigers themselves, especially from the USA where there are estimated to be over 5,000 tigers in captivity (only an estimated 6% of which are in accredited zoos and facilities with proper care). Most are kept in unsuitable conditions chained up in gardens by people with no training on how to care for such a complex animal.