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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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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b
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Animals
Here's the First-Ever Video of Sand Cat Kittens Playing in the Wild

Sand cats are as elusive as they are adorable. Native to the isolated deserts of Asia and Africa, the nocturnal felines are adapted to desert life, and can go for long periods without water. They’re stealthy predators of venomous snakes and small rodents, and escape detection thanks to their pale sandy coats and furry paws, the latter of which make their tracks nearly invisible. These reasons, among others, are why sand kittens have never been captured on video—until now.

As The Independent reports, researchers from Panthera France, a wild cat conservation group, recently found and filmed three sand cat kittens in Morocco. Thought to be around two months old, they were hiding among vegetation as they waited for their mother to return.

Led by biologists Alexander Sliwa and Grégory Breton, the managing director of Panthera France, the researchers first embarked on their quest to locate and study the wild cat in 2013. Over the course of multiple expeditions, they encountered adults, but no offspring.

In April 2017, during their fifth expedition, Sliwa and Breton were heading back to camp at night when they spotted three pairs of gleaming eyes in the darkness. "They belonged to young sand cats, yellowish, small wild cats with broader faces and larger ears than domestic cats," Breton recounted on Panthera France's blog. Astonished, the scientists managed to record the kittens and identify and radio-collar their mother.

Experts think this is the first time that sand cat (Felis margarita) kittens have been documented in their African range. Until Sliwa and Breton locate even more baby cats for us to ogle, you can enjoy their video footage below.

[h/t The Independent]

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