While the lion is the king of the jungle, the tiger is the undisputed emperor of big cats. The tiger is the largest living cat species and clearly dwarfs all other extant felines by a substantial degree. With their distinctive coloring and stripes, tigers appear both majestic and intimidating. In the recent past, these apex predators used to roam throughout much of South and Central Asia. Unfortunately, their numbers have steadily declined due to poaching and habitat loss. Within the past several decades, several subspecies went extinct, completely disappearing from their natural range. While conservation efforts continue to try to preserve tiger populations, it’s a largely uphill battle. Today, the few tigers left must fight to survive in smaller and smaller territories. Still, tigers continue to capture our imagination due to their large size and striking features. That said, what are the world’s largest tigers?
In this article, we’ll cover the largest tiger species alive today. We’ll also cover which extinct tiger species stood head and shoulders above the rest. Furthermore, we’ll identify the largest tiger in captivity and in the wild. To top it all off, we’ll end with some frequently asked questions about tigers. Get ready to learn all about the world’s largest tigers.
The Extant Tiger Subspecies
Until recently, scientists believed there to be eight subspecies of tiger. However, new research in the past few years caused experts to revise this total to nine. The extant subspecies include the Bengal (or Indian) tiger, Siberian (or Amur) tiger, South China tiger, Sumatran tiger, Indochinese tiger, and the newly added Malayan tiger. Of these living tigers, the smallest by far is the Sumatran tiger. The Sumatran tiger is the only subspecies remaining in the Sunda Islands. Males can measure 87 to 100 inches long and weigh 220 to 310 pounds.
Next up in terms of size is the newly labeled Malayan tiger from the Malay Peninsula. These tigers grow only slightly larger than Sumatran tigers, as males measure between 75 to 112 inches long and weigh from 220 and 308 pounds. After that comes the South China tiger. Originally native to southern China, these tigers may already no longer exist in the wild, as almost no verifiable sightings have been made since the late 1980s. Among those currently living in captivity, males typically range from 91 to 104 inches long and weigh around 287 to 386 pounds. Then comes the Indochinese tiger, which ranges in isolated parts of Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos. On average, males record lengths around 100 to 112 inches long and weigh between 331 and 430 pounds.
The Bengal tiger claims second place in our list of the world’s largest tigers. These iconic cats range throughout India, Bangladesh, and Nepal, and are one of the most numerous tiger subspecies. Males record an average length of 110 to 120 inches long and range from 386 to 573 pounds. While certainly large, the Bengal tiger loses by a hair to the undisputed largest extant tiger subspecies: the Siberian tiger.
The Largest Living Subspecies of Tiger
The Siberian tiger wins first place in our list of the world’s largest tigers. Native to the Russian Far East, northeast China, and North Korea, Siberian tigers go by many names depending on the region where they live. Other names include the Amur tiger, Korean tiger, Manchurian tiger, and Ussurian tiger. A close relative of the extinct Caspian tiger, the Siberian tiger almost went extinct, but the population is now considered stable due to intense conservation efforts. According to records, male Siberian tigers typically measured up to 120 inches long and weighed between 397 and 675 pounds. Unfortunately, due to habitat loss and decreased food availability, modern tigers do not grow as large as their older kin. Today, most wild Siberian tigers measure on the smaller side, likely due to an increase in the amount of time between feedings as a result of habitat loss.
The Largest Extinct Tigers
The three extinct modern tiger species include the Bali tiger, the Javan tiger, and the Caspian tiger. Prior to going extinct in the 1950s, the Bali tiger held the record as the smallest tiger species. Males generally measured about 87 to 91 inches long and weighed around 200 to 220 pounds. Then there’s the Javan tiger, which likely went extinct in the wild in the mid-1970s, largely due to habitat destruction and hunting. When alive, males usually measured around 98 inches long and weighed between 220 and 311 pounds.
The largest extinct subspecies of modern tiger, the Caspian tiger only recently went extinct, with 2003 pegged as the likely year that the last Caspian tiger died. Their range historically included parts of Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, China, and areas around the Caspian Sea, which is where they get their name. Also known as the Balkhash tiger, Hyrcanian tiger, Turanian tiger, and Mazandaran tiger, they shared a lot in common with Siberian tigers. Only slightly smaller than Siberian tigers, male Caspian tigers frequently measured between 106 to 116 inches long and 370 and 530 pounds.
That said, the largest extinct tiger did not die out recently, but rather disappeared from the face of the Earth thousands of years ago. Panthere tigris solensis, or the Ngandong tiger, lived in the Sundaland region of Indonesia back in the Pleistocene epoch. Remains of this massive tiger come from a site near the village of Ngandong, which is where it gets its name. Based on the size of the recovered fossils, the Ngandong tiger likely weighed up to 1,040 pounds and measured nearly 138 inches long. With measurements like that, it would weigh nearly twice as large as the largest living tigers and represent one of the largest land carnivores on the planet.
The Largest Tiger in Captivity
As the world’s largest tigers, Siberian tigers also claim the title of the largest tiger ever raised in captivity. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the record for largest tiger ever held in captivity goes to a male Siberian tiger named Jaipur. Owned by American animal trainer Joan Byron Marasek, Jaipur measured much larger than almost any other tiger ever record. By the time he was nine years old, he measured 10 feet, 11 inches long, and weighed closed to 932 pounds. While it’s likely that Jaipur was clinically overweight, he still deserves his title as the biggest captive cat.
The Largest Tiger Ever Found in the Wild
Meanwhile, the largest tiger ever found in the wild was an overgrown male Bengal tiger. This giant specimen lived in Uttar Pradesh in India prior to being shot by hunters in November 1967. At full length, he measured nearly 10 feet, 7 inches long, and weighed close to 857 pounds. That said, an autopsy revealed he only recently ate a buffalo, which likely contributed to his above-average weight. Still, this specimen ranks among the top of the world’s largest tigers encountered in the wild. Other reports of giant tigers could never verify their claims, and therefore must be taken with a grain of salt.
Frequently Asked Questions About Tigers
How many tigers are there?
According to the World Wildlife Fund, only 3,900 tigers remain in the wild worldwide. Compared to around 100,000 at the start of the 20th century, this represents over a 95% reduction in the world’s tiger population.
Are white tigers extinct?
White tigers don’t constitute a different subspecies, but rather occur due to a genetic anomaly that causes their fur to grow white instead of orange. As such, they cannot go extinct, as they don’t represent a distinct species or subspecies.
What is the rarest tiger?
The rarest extant tiger is the South China tiger, which is functionally extinct in the wild. While a few lone individuals may remain, the only substantial populations currently live in zoos. At present, only around 100 live in captivity worldwide.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Volodymyr Burdiak/Shutterstock.com
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