Caspian tiger

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Caspian tiger
Panthera tigris virgata.jpg
Tiger from the Caucasus in Berlin Zoo, 1899 [1]
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Pantherinae
Genus: Panthera
P. t. tigris
Trinomial name
Panthera tigris tigris
Panthera tigris virgata dis.png
Original distribution of the Caspian tiger (in black)
Synonyms [2] [3]
  • P. t. virgata (Illiger, 1815)
  • P. t. lecoqi
  • P. t. septentrionalis
  • P. t. trabata

The Caspian tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) was a tiger population which lived from eastern Turkey, Mesopotamia, the Caucasus around the Caspian Sea through Central Asia to northern Afghanistan and Xinjiang in western China. [4] It inhabited sparse forests and riverine corridors in this region until the 1970s. [1] This population was assessed as extinct in 2003. [5]

Tiger Largest species of the cat family

The tiger is the largest species among the Felidae and classified in the genus Panthera. It is most recognisable for its dark vertical stripes on reddish-orange fur with a lighter underside. It is an apex predator, primarily preying on ungulates such as deer and wild boar. It is territorial and generally a solitary but social predator, requiring large contiguous areas of habitat, which support its requirements for prey and rearing of its offspring. Tiger cubs stay with their mother for about two years, before they become independent and leave their mother's home range to establish their own.

Turkey Republic in Western Asia

Turkey, officially the Republic of Turkey, is a transcontinental country located mainly in Western Asia, with a smaller portion on the Balkan Peninsula in Southeast Europe. East Thrace, located in Europe, is separated from Anatolia by the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorous strait and the Dardanelles. Turkey is bordered by Greece and Bulgaria to its northwest; Georgia to its northeast; Armenia, the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan and Iran to the east; and Iraq and Syria to the south. Istanbul is the largest city, but more central Ankara is the capital. Approximately 70 to 80 per cent of the country's citizens identify as Turkish. Kurds are the largest minority; the size of the Kurdish population is a subject of dispute with estimates placing the figure at anywhere from 12 to 25 per cent of the population.

Mesopotamia Historical region within the Tigris–Euphrates river system

Mesopotamia is a historical region of Western Asia situated within the Tigris–Euphrates river system, in the northern part of the Fertile Crescent, in modern days roughly corresponding to most of Iraq, Kuwait, the eastern parts of Syria, Southeastern Turkey, and regions along the Turkish–Syrian and Iran–Iraq borders.


Felis virgata was the scientific name proposed in 1815 by Johann Karl Wilhelm Illiger for this tiger population. [6] Results of phylogeographic analysis indicate that the Caspian and Siberian tiger populations shared a common continuous geographic distribution until the early 19th century that became fragmented due to human influence. [7]

Johann Karl Wilhelm Illiger was a German entomologist and zoologist.

Phylogeography is the study of the historical processes that may be responsible for the contemporary geographic distributions of individuals. This is accomplished by considering the geographic distribution of individuals in light of genetics, particularly population genetics.

Siberian tiger subspecies of mammal

The Siberian tiger is a tiger population in the Far East, particularly the Russian Far East and Northeast China. This population inhabits mainly the Sikhote Alin mountain region in southwest Primorye Province in the Russian Far East. The Siberian tiger once ranged throughout Korea, north China, Russian Far East, and eastern Mongolia. In 2005, there were 331–393 adult and subadult Siberian tigers in this region, with a breeding adult population of about 250 individuals. The population had been stable for more than a decade due to intensive conservation efforts, but partial surveys conducted after 2005 indicate that the Russian tiger population was declining. An initial census held in 2015 indicated that the Siberian tiger population had increased to 480–540 individuals in the Russian Far East, including 100 cubs. This was followed up by a more detailed census which revealed there was a total population of 562 wild Siberian tigers in Russia.

Some Caspian tiger individuals were intermediate in size between Siberian and Bengal tigers. [8] [2] [9]

Bengal tiger subspecies of tiger

The Bengal tiger is a Panthera tigris tigris population in the Indian subcontinent. It is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List since 2008, and was estimated at comprising fewer than 2,500 individuals by 2011. It is threatened by poaching, loss, and fragmentation of habitat. None of the Tiger Conservation Landscapes within its range is considered large enough to support an effective population of more than 250 adult individuals. India's tiger population was estimated at 1,706–1,909 individuals in 2010. By 2014, the population had reputedly increased to an estimated 2,226 individuals. Around 440 tigers are estimated in Bangladesh, 163–253 tigers in Nepal and 103 tigers in Bhutan.

The Caspian tiger was also called Hyrcanian tiger, Turanian tiger, [5] and Babre Mazandaran (Persian : ببرِ مازندران), depending on the region of its occurrence. [10]

Hyrcania satrapy of the Sassanian Empire

Hyrcania is a historical region composed of the land south-east of the Caspian Sea in modern-day Iran, bound in the south by the Alborz mountain range and the Kopet Dag in the east.

Turan region in Central Asia

Turan is a historical region in Central Asia. The term is of Iranian origin and may refer to a particular prehistoric human settlement, a historic geographical region, or a culture. The original Turanians were an Iranian tribe of the Avestan age.

Persian language Western Iranian language

Persian, also known by its endonym Farsi, is a Western Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. It is a pluricentric language primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and some other regions which historically were Persianate societies and considered part of Greater Iran. It is written right to left in the Persian alphabet, a modified variant of the Arabic script.


Felis virgata was the scientific name used by Illiger in 1815 when he described the greyish tigers in the area of the Caspian Sea and Persia. [6] In 1929, Reginald Innes Pocock subordinated the tiger to the genus Panthera . [11] For several decades, the Caspian tiger was considered a distinct tiger subspecies. [2] [3]

Reginald Innes Pocock British zoologist (1863–1947)

Reginald Innes Pocock F.R.S. was a British zoologist.

<i>Panthera</i> genus of mammals

Panthera is a genus within the Felidae family that was named and described by Lorenz Oken in 1816 who placed all the spotted cats in this group. Reginald Innes Pocock revised the classification of this genus in 1916 as comprising the species lion, tiger, jaguar, and leopard on the basis of common cranial features. Results of genetic analysis indicate that the snow leopard also belongs to the Panthera, a classification that was accepted by IUCN Red List assessors in 2008.

Subspecies taxonomic rank subordinate to species

In biological classification, the term subspecies refers to one of two or more populations of a species living in different subdivisions of the species' range and varying from one another by morphological characteristics. A single subspecies cannot be recognized independently: a species is either recognized as having no subspecies at all or at least two, including any that are extinct. The term is abbreviated subsp. in botany and bacteriology, ssp. in zoology. The plural is the same as the singular: subspecies.

In 1999, the validity of several tiger subspecies was questioned. Most putative subspecies described in the 19th and 20th centuries were distinguished on basis of fur length and colouration, striping patterns and body size, hence characteristics that vary widely within populations. Morphologically, tigers from different regions vary little, and gene flow between populations in those regions is considered to have been possible during the Pleistocene. Therefore, it was proposed to recognize only two tiger subspecies as valid, namely P. t. tigris in mainland Asia, and P. t. sondaica in the Greater Sunda Islands and possibly in Sundaland. [12]

In zoological nomenclature, the valid name of a taxon is the zoological name that is to be used for that taxon following the rules in the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). In other words: a valid name is the correct zoological name of a taxon.

Morphology (biology) In biology, the form and structure of organisms

Morphology is a branch of biology dealing with the study of the form and structure of organisms and their specific structural features.

Gene flow The transfer of genetic variation from one population to another

In population genetics, gene flow is the transfer of genetic variation from one population to another. If the rate of gene flow is high enough, then two populations are considered to have equivalent allele frequencies and therefore effectively be a single population. It has been shown that it takes only "One migrant per generation" to prevent populations from diverging due to drift. Gene flow is an important mechanism for transferring genetic diversity among populations. Migrants change the distribution of genetic diversity within the populations, by modifying the allele frequencies. High rates of gene flow can reduce the genetic differentiation between the two groups, increasing homogeneity. For this reason, gene flow has been thought to constrain speciation by combining the gene pools of the groups, thus preventing the development of differences in genetic variation that would have led to full speciation. In some cases migration may also result in the addition of novel genetic variants to the gene pool of a species or population.

At the start of the 21st century, genetic studies were carried out using 20 tiger bone and tissue samples from museum collections and sequencing at least one segment of five mitochondrial genes. Results revealed a low amount of variability in the mitochondrial DNA in Caspian tigers; and that Caspian and Siberian tigers were remarkably similar, indicating that the Siberian tiger is the genetically closest living relative of the Caspian tiger. Phylogeographic analysis indicates that the common ancestor of Caspian and Siberian tigers colonized Central Asia via the GansuSilk Road region from eastern China less than 10,000 years ago, and subsequently traversed eastward to establish the Siberian tiger population in the Russian Far East. The Caspian and Siberian tigers were likely a single contiguous population until the early 19th century, but became isolated from another due to fragmentation and loss of habitat during the Industrial Revolution. [7]

In 2015, morphological, ecological and molecular traits of all putative tiger subspecies were analysed in a combined approach. Results support distinction of the two evolutionary groups continental and Sunda tigers. The authors proposed recognition of only two subspecies, namely P. t. tigris comprising the Bengal, Malayan, Indochinese, South Chinese, Siberian and Caspian tiger populations, and P. t. sondaica comprising the Javan, Bali and Sumatran tiger populations. [13]

In 2017, the Cat Specialist Group revised felid taxonomy and now recognizes the tiger populations in continental Asia as P. t. tigris. [4]


Skin of a Caspian tiger from Iran
MSU V2P2 - Panthera tigris virgata & altaica tails.png
Comparative illustration of the stripe patterns on the tails of Caspian (left) and Siberian tigers (right) [8]
Illustration of two Caspian tigers


Photographs of skins of Caspian and Amur tigers indicate that the main background colour of the Caspian tiger's fur varied and was generally brighter and more uniform than that of the Siberian tiger. The stripes were narrower, fuller and more closely set than those of tigers from Manchuria. The colour of its stripes was a mixture of brown or cinnamon shades. Pure black patterns were invariably found only on head, neck, the middle of the back and at the tip of the tail. Angular patterns at the base of the tail were less developed than those of Far Eastern populations. The contrast between the summer and winter coats was sharp, though not to the same extent as in Far Eastern populations. The winter coat was paler, with less distinct patterns. The summer coat had a similar density and hair length to that of the Bengal tiger, though its stripes were usually narrower, longer and closer set. It had the thickest fur amongst tigers, possibly due its occurrence in the temperate parts of Eurasia. [8] [2] [9]


The Caspian tiger ranked among the largest cats that ever existed. [2] [8] [14] Males had a body length of 270–295 cm (106–116 in) and weighed 170–240 kg (370–530 lb); females measured 240–260 cm (94–102 in) in head-to-body and weighed 85–135 kg (187–298 lb). [2] Maximum skull length in males was 297–365.8 mm (11.69–14.40 in), while that of females was 195.7–255.5 mm (7.70–10.06 in). [8] Its occiput was broader than of the Bengal tiger. [15]

Some individuals attained exceptional sizes. In 1954, a tiger was killed near the Sumbar River in Kopet-Dag whose stuffed skin was put on display in a museum in Ashgabat. Its head-to-body length was 2.25 m (7.4 ft). Its skull had a condylobasal length of about 305 mm (12.0 in), and zygomatic width of 205 mm (8.1 in). Its skull length was 385 mm (15.2 in), hence more than the known maximum of 365.8 mm (14.40 in) for this population, and slightly exceeding skull length of most Siberian tigers. [8] In Prishibinske, a tiger was killed in February 1899. Measurements after skinning revealed a body length of 270 cm (8.9 ft) between the pegs, plus a 90 cm (3.0 ft) long tail, giving it a total length of about 360 cm (11.8 ft). Measurements between the pegs of up to 2.95 m (9.7 ft) is known. [2] According to Satunin it was "a tiger of immense proportions" and "no smaller than the common Tuzemna horse." It had rather long fur. [8]

Skull size and shape of Caspian tigers significantly overlap with and are almost indistinguishable from other tiger specimens in mainland Asia. [16]

Distribution and habitat

Shore of the Türkmenbaşy Gulf at the Caspian Sea
The Tigris River outside Mosul in Iraq
Telecke jezero 1.JPG
Landscape in the Altai Mountains

Historical records show that the distribution of the tiger in the region of the Caspian Sea was not continuous but patchy, and associated with wetlands such as river basins, lake edges and sea shores. [8] In the 19th century, tigers occurred in:

Its former distribution can be approximated by examining the distribution of ungulates in the region. [23] Wild boar was the numerically dominant ungulate occurring in forested habitats, along watercourses, in reed beds and in thickets of the Caspian and Aral Seas. Where watercourses penetrated deep into desert areas, suitable wild pig and tiger habitat was often linear, only a few kilometers wide at most. Red and roe deer occurred in forests around the Black Sea to the western side and around the southern side of the Caspian Sea in a narrow belt of forest cover. Roe deer occurred in forested areas south of Lake Balkash. Bactrian deer occurred in the narrow belt of forest habitat on the southern border of the Aral Sea, and southward along the Syr-Darya and Amu-Darya rivers. [8]

Local extinction

Tiger killed in northern Iran, early 1940s Caspian tiger, north iran.jpg
Tiger killed in northern Iran, early 1940s

The demise of the Caspian tiger began with the Russian colonisation of Turkestan during the late 19th century. [24] Its extirpation was caused by several factors:

Until the early 20th century, the regular Russian army was used to clear predators from forests, around settlements, and potential agricultural lands. Until World War I, about 100 tigers were killed in the forests of Amu-Darya and Piandj Rivers each year. High incentives were paid for tiger skins up to 1929. The prey base of tigers, wild pigs and deer, were decimated by deforestation and subsistence hunting by the increasing human population along the rivers, supported by growing agricultural developments. [25] By 1910, cotton plants were estimated to occupy nearly one-fifth of Turkestan's arable land, with about one half located in the Fergana Valley. [26]

Last sightings

In Iraq, a tiger was killed near Mosul in 1887. [1] [17]

In Georgia, the last known tiger was killed in 1922 near Tbilisi, after taking domestic livestock. [1] [27] Its stuffed body was put on display in the Georgian National Museum. [28] [29]

In China, tigers disappeared from the Tarim River basin in Xinjiang in the 1920s. [1] [27] From the Manasi River basin in the Tian Shan Range west of Ürümqi they reportedly disappeared in the 1960s. [8]

In Turkey, a pair of tigers was allegedly killed in the area of Selçuk in 1943. [30] Several tiger skins found in the early 1970s near Uludere indicated the presence of a tiger population in eastern Turkey. [31] [32] Questionnaire surveys conducted in this region revealed that one to eight tigers were killed each year until the mid-1980s, and that tigers likely had survived in the region until the early 1990s. Due to lack of interest, in addition to security and safety reasons, no further field surveys were carried out in the area. [18]

In Kazakhstan, the last Caspian tiger was recorded in 1948, in the environs of the Ili River, the last known stronghold in the region of Lake Balkhash. [8]

In Iran, one of the last known tigers was shot in Golestan National Park in 1953. Another individual was sighted in the Golestan area in 1958. [9]

In Turkmenistan, the last known tiger was killed in January 1954 in the Sumbar River valley in the Kopet-Dag Range. [33] The last record from the lower reaches of the Amu-Darya river was an unconfirmed observation in 1968 near Nukus in the Aral Sea area. By the early 1970s, tigers disappeared from the river's lower reaches and the Pyzandh Valley in the Turkmen-Uzbek-Afghan border region. [8]

The Piandj River area between Afghanistan and Tajikistan was a stronghold of the Caspian tiger until the late 1960s. The latest sighting of a tiger in the Afghan-Tajik border area dates to 1998 in the Babatag Range. [25]

Behaviour and ecology

Mosaic of an elephant attacking a tiger, from Roman Syria, which occupied parts of what is now Anatolia and Mesopotamia Elephant Attacking a Feline.jpg
Mosaic of an elephant attacking a tiger, from Roman Syria, which occupied parts of what is now Anatolia and Mesopotamia

No information is available for home ranges of Caspian tigers. In search for prey, they possibly prowled widely and followed migratory ungulates from one pasture to another. Wild pigs and cervids probably formed their main prey base. In many regions of Central Asia, Bactrian deer and roe deer were important prey species, as well as Caucasian red deer, goitered gazelle in Iran; Eurasian golden jackals, jungle cats, locusts, and other small mammals in the lower Amu-Darya River area; saiga, wild horses, Persian onagers in Miankaleh peninsula; Turkmenian kulans, Mongolian wild asses, and mountain sheep in the Zhana-Darya and around the Aral Sea; Manchurian wapiti and moose in the area of Lake Baikal. They caught fish in flooded areas and irrigation channels. In winter, they frequently attacked dogs and livestock straying away from herds. They preferred drinking water from rivers, and drank from lakes in seasons when water was less brackish. [8]

Sympatric carnivores

Species that were sympatric with the Caspian tiger include:


Two tigers in southwestern Tajikistan harbored 5–7 tapeworms ( Taenia bubesei ) in their small and large intestines. [8]

Conservation efforts

Colour-enhanced photo of the captive tiger in Berlin Zoo, 1899 Caspian tiger.JPG
Colour-enhanced photo of the captive tiger in Berlin Zoo, 1899

Soviet Union

In 1938, the first protected area Tigrovaya Balka (Russian : Тигровая балка, lit.  'Tiger dry creek or Tiger arroyo '), was established in Tajikistan. The name was given to this zapovednik after a tiger had attacked two Russian Army officers riding horseback along dried-up river channel known in Russian as balka. Tigrovaya Balka was apparently the last refuge of Caspian tigers in the Soviet Union, and is situated in the lower reaches of Vakhsh River between the Piandj and Kofarnihon Rivers near the border of Afghanistan. A tiger was seen there in 1958. [41]

After 1947, tigers were legally protected in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. [25]


In Iran, Caspian tigers had been protected since 1957, with heavy fines for shooting. In the early 1970s, biologists from the Department of Environment searched several years for Caspian tigers in the uninhabited areas of Caspian forests, but did not find any evidence of their presence. [9]

Central Asian reintroduction

Stimulated by recent findings that the Siberian tiger (Amur population) is the closest relative of the Caspian tiger, albeit slightly bigger than it, discussions started as to whether the Amur tiger could be an appropriate subspecies for reintroduction into a safe place in Central Asia. [42] The Amu-Darya Delta was suggested as a potential site for such a project. A feasibility study was initiated to investigate if the area is suitable and if such an initiative would receive support from relevant decision makers. A viable tiger population of about 100 animals would require at least 5,000 km2 (1,900 sq mi) of large tracts of contiguous habitat with rich prey populations. Such habitat is not available at this stage and cannot be provided in the short term. The proposed region is therefore unsuitable for the reintroduction, at least at this stage. [25]

While the restoration of the Caspian tiger has stimulated discussions, the locations for the tiger have yet to become fully involved in the planning. But through preliminary ecological surveys it has been revealed that some small populated areas of Central Asia have preserved natural habitat suitable for tigers. [43]

In culture

See also

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Sumatran tiger subspecies of mammal

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Asiatic lion Lion population in India

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Javan tiger Extinct tiger population in Sunda Island Java

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Bali tiger Extinct tiger population in Sunda Island Bali

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Malayan tiger Population of mammal

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Persian leopard Leopard subspecies

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Indian leopard Leopard subspecies

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Mainland Asian tiger Subspecies of mammal

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Bornean tiger

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Further reading