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11 Ferocious Facts About Tigers

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Here are a few things you might not know about the exotic (and endangered) animal.

1. No stripe is the same.

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The big cats use their coats as camouflage. Every tiger has a unique set of stripes that can be used to identify it, similar to human fingerprints. Some tigers have orange fur with black stripes; others are black with tan stripes, white with tan stripes, or all white (albino). 

2. Tigers are an endangered species.

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Humans have long hunted tigers for their fur and and other parts (more on that below). They are also rapidly losing their habitats, since people have co-opted most of their land for farming and logging. (The island of Sumatra, home of the Sumatran tiger, for example, has lost 50% of its forest cover.) In just over a century, 97% of the tiger population has perished, three subspecies have gone extinct, and the whole species is expected to be extinct in just a decade. 

3. There are more tigers in captivity than in the wild.

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There are thought to be 3,000 tigers in the wild and between 5,000 and 10,000 tigers in U.S. cages. An estimated 90 percent of them are kept in roadside zoos, backyard breeder facilities, circus wagons, and as pets in homes. 

4.  Tigers are the largest members of the cat family.

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Followed by the lion in second place, and the jaguar in third. The Siberian tiger, the largest subspecies, can weigh up to 675 pounds and is capable of killing animals twice its size.

5. Tigers are territorial.

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They live alone and scent-mark their territories—which are up to 10,000 square kilometers in size. A male tiger guards his territory from other males, but must offer access to females for potential mating. A male's territory will always be larger than a female's, and may overlap with the territories of one to seven females.

6. There were once nine sub-species of tigers.

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At one time, these subspecies included the Bengal, the Siberian, the Indochinese, the South Chinese, the Sumatran, the Malayan, the Caspian, the Javan, and the Bali. Of these, the Caspian, the Javan, and the Bali are extinct, the South Chinese is extinct in the wild, and the rest are endangered.

7. A tiger’s lifespan is usually 10-15 years.

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Tigers are typically nocturnal and solitary animals. At the beginning of their lives, they spend two and a half years with their mothers before venturing out to live the rest of their days alone. 

8. Many cultures consider the tiger to be a symbol of strength and courage.

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However, that comes with drawbacks, as hunting them is also considered a sign of braveryIn Asia, tigers are one of the top five animals that people pay huge amounts of money for the "privilege" of hunting. In addition, it is believed that at least 60 per cent of China’s billion-plus inhabitants use medicines with tiger-derived ingredients. The booming economies (and related personal incomes) in Southeast Asia have caused demand and prices for tiger-related products to soar; in general, the international trade in wildlife products is an estimated $6 billion-a-year business.

9. All tigers are carnivores, with manners.

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Male tigers usually hunt and feast alone. However, if they have a family, they will let the female tigress and her cubs eat first. Their typical diet consists mainly of pigs, deer, rhinos, and elephant calves, and they are capable of eating up to 21 kilograms of meat per day.

10. Tigers can have as many as seven cubs.

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Adult females generally produce a litter every two years. However, only about half of the litter survives, because the mother cannot abandon the group long enough to kill the prey necessary to sustain them all. The cubs only join their mother for the hunt after eight to ten months of careful instruction from mom.

11. Tigers rely heavily on their teeth for survival.

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Their jaws are made for "snapping necks, crunching through bone and sinew and grinding meat into mouthfuls soft enough to swallow." Their canine teeth are especially sharp, and are packed full of nerve endings that allow for hunting and attacking with precision. If a tiger were to lose its canines, it would no longer be able to kill and would likely starve to death. 

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Animals
Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Penn Vet Working Dog Center
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
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K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
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“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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