Meet the Largest Wild Cat Breed

Written by Chanel Coetzee
Published: October 27, 2022
© iStock.com/Ondrej Prosicky
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The largest wild cat breed in the world is the tiger. However, it’s not their size that captivates people; it’s their attractive appearance, with their orange-brown fur and black vertical stripes. Unfortunately, this majestic species is in a lot of trouble, and there are already 3 extinct tiger populations, namely, the Caspian, Javan, and Bali tigers.

In addition, there are 6 populations of tigers that are all classified as Endangered, and some are even Critically Endangered; they are the Siberian, Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, South China, and Sumantran tigers.

Their biggest threats are poaching and habitat loss. Sadly, humans kill these beautiful creatures to sell their bones, fur, and claws on the black market, which is extremely profitable, as many Asian cultures use their bones in traditional medicine.

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What Is the Largest Wild Cat Breed and Its Subspecies?

The largest wild cat breed on the planet is the tiger. However, there are 2 subspecies (Panthera tigris tigris and Panthera tigris sondaica)  divided into 6 populations that vary in size and location; they include:

Siberian Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) Is the Largest Wild Cat Breed in the World

Siberian tigers can measure 11 feet long, with a tail of 3 feet.

©Gerckens-Photo-Hamburg/Shutterstock.com

The Siberian tiger inhabits the snowy mountain forests of Eastern Russia, and they have evolved to acclimate to this harsh climate. That is why they are the largest of all tiger species and the largest wild cat breed in the world.

They need extra fat to keep them warm and help them outlast the freezing winters, and they have a thick, long coat that keeps them nice and toasty in the deep snow.

These cats can measure 11 feet long, with a tail of 3 feet. Adult males can weigh up to 700 pounds, while female Siberian tigers are smaller, only weighing around 400 pounds.

All tigers’ stripe patterns are unique, just like a human fingerprint, but Siberian tigers have paler and fewer stripes than other species. In addition, they have manes to help protect their necks from the cold, but they are in no way, shape, or form as big as a lion’s mane.

Their name has recently been changed to the Amur tiger because they are no longer found in Siberia. Now, there are small populations in southeast Russia and small numbers in North Korea and China. But since the Amur river runs through most of their habitat, their name was suitably changed.

Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)

Bengal tiger laying in brush
The Bengal tiger is the most well-known tiger.

©dangdumrong/Shutterstock.com

Bengal tigers also go by the name Royal Bengal or Bengali tiger. They are the second largest population of tigers, whose adult males weigh around 440 -570 pounds, with a length of 9 feet, including the tail. However, the female Bengals are significantly smaller, weighing 240-400 pounds and 8 feet in length.

These magnificent giants occur in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, southern Tibet, and Myanmar. Their primary habitat is tropical forests, but they also occur in grasslands near water sources.

Their coats vary in color, with the most common being orange with black stripes. The other two colors are white and golden tabby. Bengals are incredibly powerful cats that can carry large prey (almost twice their size) for long distances.

Indochinese Tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti)

Indochinese Tigers (Panthera tigris corbetti), Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden
Indochinese tigers are smaller than the Bengal tiger, with males weighing between 430 to 331 pounds and measuring 100 to 112 inches.

©Kabir Bakie / Creative Commons

The Indochinese tiger is named after the region where it is found, the Indochina region of Asia. Their largest populations occur in Thailand, Vietnam, and Burma. They are classed as Critically Endangered, as an estimated 300 to 400 individuals are left in the wild.

Their demise is due to illegal wildlife trade, as nearly every inch of this animal’s body is used in Asian medicines, rituals, jewelry, clothes, and wine. People even eat their internal organs.

Indochinese tigers are smaller than the Bengal tiger, with males weighing between 430 to 331 pounds and measuring 100 to 112 inches. Females weigh around 220 to 290 pounds and are approximately 91 to 100 inches long.

South China Tiger (Panthera  tigris amoyensis)

South China tiger on the prowl
South China Tigers are almost identical in size to the Malayan tiger, with males weighing between 287 to 386 pounds and measuring 91 to 104 inches long.

©Mikhail Leonov/Shutterstock.com

The South China tiger is basically extinct. They are so rare that only 30 to 40 individuals are left, and they are all in zoos. In fact, there hasn’t been a South China tiger spotted in the wild since the late 80s.

The reason for their demise happened in the 1970s when the Chinese government cleared swatches of forest for commercial purposes. While in the forests, workers encountered streaks of tigers and eventually declared them as pests, which they started to exterminate. Devastatingly, their population size dropped from 4000 to 40 in under a decade.

However, China is now trying to right its wrongs and has established the South China tiger as a protected class. In addition, zoos in China and South Africa have set up breeding programs for the South China tiger and plan to release a few individuals back into the wild.

These tigers are almost identical in size to the Malayan tiger, with males weighing between 287 to 386 pounds, and measuring 91 to 104 inches long, while females weigh around 220 to 254 pounds and are 87 to 94 inches in length.

Malayan Tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni)

Two Malayan Tigers playing
Malayan tigers are slightly smaller than South China tigers.

©Malcolm / Creative Commons – License

The Malayan tiger is in big danger at the moment and is listed as Critically Endangered; their numbers are declining more and more each day. Sadly, only 200 mature adults are left in the wild capable of breeding.

Their decline is mainly due to habitat loss and poaching. Unfortunately, their body parts and pelts are in high demand on the black market. However, conservationists are working hard to preserve this amazing big cat, but only time will tell if they will make it or not.

Malayan tigers are slightly smaller than South China tigers. Males weigh between 220 to 370 pounds and measure 75 to 112 inches long. Females weigh around 170 to 250 pounds and reach lengths of 70 to 103 inches.

Sumatran Tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae)

Sumatran Tiger lying on grass
The Sumatran Tiger is the only surviving tiger species in Indonesia, but they are Critically Endangered, with only around 400 to 600 individuals left in the wild.

©Monika Betley / Creative Commons

Sumatran Tigers are extremely rare and only found on Sumatra, one of Indonesia’s islands. While they have very similar genetic ties to other populations of tigers, these big cats have evolved differently.

Firstly, they are significantly smaller than other tigers, with males weighing around 220 to 310 and measuring between 87 to 100 inches long. The female’s weight ranges from 165 to 243 pounds, and they can grow to lengths of 85 to 91 inches.

Secondly, they are shorter than most tigers and have lighter builds. And lastly, their stripes are different. They are darker and more defined, stretching over the tiger’s entire body. In addition, there are stripe patterns present on their forelegs, which is uncommon in tigers.

This is the only surviving tiger species in Indonesia, but they are Critically Endangered, with only around 400 to 600 individuals left in the wild. Two other species of tigers who shared their habitat are now extinct: the Bali and Javan tigers.

Extinct Tiger Species

Sadly, three tiger species no longer exist: the Caspian, Bali, and Javan tigers. And if people don’t wake up and do something, every specie of tiger left on the earth will follow in their footsteps. So what would a world with no tigers be like? Let’s hope we never have to find out….

Caspian Tiger

Caspian Tiger
Unlike Java and Bali tigers, Caspian tigers did not live on islands.

©public domain – License

The Caspian tiger is the largest of the extinct subspecies. This powerful animal was fierce and intimidating. Adult males weighed around 370 to 530 pounds and measured 106 to 116 inches. Females weighed 187 to 298 pounds and reached lengths of 94 to 102 inches.

They were native to the Caucasus around the Caspian Sea, eastern Turkey, Mesopotamia, northern Iran, Central Asia, northern Afghanistan, and western China. However, up until the Middle Ages, they also occurred in Ukraine and southern Russia.

They went by many names, including:

  • Persian tiger
  • Mazandaran tiger
  • Turan tiger
  • Hyrcanian tiger

When they roamed the earth, they were considered one of the largest wild cat breeds in the world and were easily distinguishable by their powerful legs and extremely muscular bodies. However, their most identifiable feature was the length of their legs, which were much longer than any other tiger species.

In addition, Caspian tigers had different coloring. Their bodies were covered in golden fur with dark or light brown stripes. They were also fluffy, like the Siberian tiger; their thick coats protected them from the harsh winters they had to endure.

Habitat

These giants differed significantly from other tiger species because instead of dense forests, they preferred to inhabit arid environments located close to water sources with lush grass, trees, shrubs, foliage, and reeds.

Reason for the Extinction of One of the Largest Wild Cat Breeds

The Caspian tiger was officially declared extinct in the 1970s, and the main reason for its demise was the loss of habitat. Humans started to occupy riverine habitats, and they began to hunt these magnificent cats.

In addition, the more humans moved into their habitat, the more they started to hunt the tigers’ natural prey, which left this poor animal with nothing to hunt and eat.

Bali Tiger (Panthera tigris balica)

Bali tigers were actually similar in size to the leopard or cougar.

©Hary Atwell / Creative Commons – License

The Bali tiger is now extinct, but they were native to one island in Indonesia called Bali, hence the name. They were the first tiger of the modern era to go extinct but were soon followed by the Javan and Caspian tigers.

These wild cats were the smallest of the 9 subspecies of tiger. They were actually similar in size to the leopard or cougar. Males measured approximately 7 feet long and weighed around 200 pounds. Females were just under 7 feet long and weighed about 150 pounds.

Their fur was short and dark orange in color, and they had very few stripes. In addition, they had a bar-type pattern on their heads.

Habitat

Bali tigers only inhabited one island covered in tropical forests, limiting their territory size and diet. They would prey on a number of animals, including:

Their only predator was humans, who hunted them primarily for sport but would eat their meat and use their pelts for clothes. In addition, people used their claws and teeth in jewelry.

Cause of Extinction

On September 27, 1937, the last known Bali tiger was killed; it was a female. But, researchers believe that the species lasted for another decade or two before dying out completely.

Humans hunted this tiger to extinction, both the natives and the Dutch, when they visited the island during the Colonial period, as they were seen as deadly threats.

However, the main reason for their extinction was the small island they inhabited. The area was not big enough for their hunting radius, and there was a lot of competition among these tigers for food.

Once the human population on the island started to increase, the tiger population began to decline significantly, especially since the population numbers of these tigers in Bali weren’t very big to start with.

Javan Tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica)

Extinct Animals: Javan Tiger
Male Javan tigers measured around 98 inches and weighed about 220 to 311 pounds, while females weighed approximately 165 to 254 pounds.

©Sigit Adhi Wibowo/Shutterstock.com

Javan tigers were relatively small, but some males could grow larger than the Sumatran tigers. Male Javan tigers measured around 98 inches and weighed about 220 to 311 pounds, while females weighed approximately 165 to 254 pounds.

Their stripes were thinner than other species, and there weren’t as many. In addition, Javan tigers had longer noses, which led researchers to believe they were a separate species.

Habitat

These wild cats inhabited most areas across the island of Java, including forests and mountains, which means they came into regular contact with people.

Their primary diet consisted of mammals like wild boar and deer. But, if desperate, they would also hunt birds and reptiles. Researchers believe their average lifespan was around 15 years, but this has never been proven.

Cause of Extinction

Unfortunately, the island of Java was not big enough to sustain the Javan tigers’ population size. Although their population was not big to start with, competing for food among themselves and humans caused a steep decline in their numbers. As the human population on the island expanded, more logging companies and rice farms emerged, and mass deforestation began.

Sadly, for these tigers, there was nowhere to hide. They had no escape as their habitat grew smaller and smaller, and their prey disappeared. But, unfortunately, it didn’t end there for these poor animals. Humans saw them as a threat to their families and livestock, so they were also viciously hunted.

By the 1960s, there were around 10 to 12 individuals left, but unfortunately, even though nature reserves were set up to accommodate them, they didn’t survive. By the 90s, they were officially declared extinct.

Javan people were very superstitious and feared these tigers. Therefore, they would never refer to a tiger without addressing them as Mister; they would always say Mr. tiger. Javanese believed that if these powerful wild cats heard them using their name in such a casual way, they would take their revenge for the disrespect.

Meet the Largest Captive Cat Breed in the World

Ligers are gentle creatures; this could be because they don’t occur naturally in the wild and are missing that killer instinct because it’s not needed.

©AkulininaOlga/Shutterstock.com

While the Siberian tiger is the largest wild cat breed, the liger is the largest captive breed on the planet. Ligers of the result of crossbreeding a male lion and a female tiger. These massive cats have golden coats, spotted foreheads, and light stripes along their backs, and some males have small manes.

Ligers can weigh up to half a ton, and when standing on their hind legs, they can reach lengths of 12 feet. That’s double the size of a fully grown adult male Bengal tiger!

Ligers get bigger than tigons (Male tiger and female lion) because the female lion possesses a gene that limits growth, while in tigers, it’s the male that has that gene. Because neither of the liger’s parents passes down this gene, they suffer from gigantism.

Ligers are gentle creatures; this could be due to the fact that they don’t occur naturally in the wild, and they are missing that killer instinct because it’s not needed. Others believe that males are so calm because they lack testosterone, as they are generally infertile.

However, no matter how docile they seem, their brute strength and sheer size make them extremely dangerous. In fact, a 1000-pound liger named Rocky mauled a handler at an animal sanctuary in Tulsa in 2018.

The caretaker entered Rocky’s enclosure while he was enjoying his meal, which was strictly against the rules. Unfortunately, he succumbed to his injuries in the hospital shortly after the attack.


The Featured Image

Tiger, Animals In The Wild, Forest, Water, Animal Head
Ever heard of the largest and strongest tiger species of all time? Read on to learn more!
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About the Author

I am a 33-year-old creative and professional writer from South Africa. Wildlife is one of my greatest passions and led me to become the writer I am today. I was very blessed to work with an abundance of wildlife (mainly big cats) and captured my unique experiences in writing. But I wanted to take it further, and I ventured into the freelancing world. Now, I get to spend my days writing about animals; what could be better?

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is the biggest cat on earth?

The biggest wild cat on earth is the Siberian tiger; however, the biggest captive cat in the world is the liger.

What are the 3 biggest cats?

The three biggest wild cats are the Siberian tiger, African lion, and jaguar.

What is the most powerful big cat?

The tiger is the most powerful big cat. They outcompete the lion and jaguar in strength and size.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. All Things Nature, Available here: https://www.allthingsnature.org/what-is-a-javan-tiger.htm
  2. World Wildlife Fund, Available here: https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/tiger#:~:text=There%20are%20two%20recognized%20subspecies,Sunda%20(Panthera%20tigris%20sondaica).
  3. Tigers World, Available here: https://www.tigers-world.com/
  4. IUCN, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/15955/214862019