ew animals evoke such strong feelings of fear and awe as the tiger. For centuries its behavior has inspired legends, and the occasional inclusion of man in its diet has intensified the mystique.
Tigers are the largest living felids. Siberian tigers are the largest and the most massively built subspecies: the record was a male weighing 384 kg (845 lb).
Like that of other big cats, the tiger’s physique reflects adaptations for the capture and killing of large prey. Their hindlimbs are longer than the forelimbs as an adaptation for jumping; their forelimbs and shoulders are heavily muscled-much more than the hindlimbs-and the forepaws are equipped with long, sharp, retractable claws, enabling them to grab and hold prey once contact is made. The skull is foreshortened, thus increasing the shearing leverage of the powerful jaws. A killing bite is swiftly delivered by the long, somewhat flattened canines.
Unlike the cheetah and lion, the tiger is not found in open habitats. Its niche is essentially that of a large, solitary stalk-and-ambush hunter which exploits medium-to-large-sized prey inhabiting moderately dense cover.
Tigers in Captivity
The basic social unit in the tiger is mother and young. Tigers have, however, been successfully maintained in pairs or groups in zoos and are seen in zoos (normally a female and young, but sometimes a male and female) at bait kills in the wild, indicating a high degree of social tolerance. The demands of the habitat in which the tiger lives have not favored the development of a complex society and instead we see a dispersed social system. This arrangement is well suited to the task of finding and securing food in an essentially closed habitat where the scattered prey is solitary or in small groups. Under these circumstances, a predator gains little by hunting cooperatively, but can operate more efficiently by hunting alone.
In a long-term study of tigers in Royal Chitwan National Park, in southern Nepal, it was found, using radio-tracking techniques, that both males and females occupy home ranges that did not overlap those of others of their sex; home ranges of females measured approximately 20 sq. km (8 sq. miles) while males had much larger ones, measuring 60 – 100 sq. km (23 – 40 sq. miles). Each resident male’s range encompassed those of several females. Transient animals occasionally moved through the ranges of residents, but never remained there for long. By comparison, in the Soviet far East, where the prey is scattered and makes large seasonal movements, the density of tigers is low, less than one adult per 100 sq. km (40 sq. miles).
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