- Most of the tigers in the world – about 5,000 animals – live in captivity in the United States.
- The countries with wild tiger populations are coordinating efforts to try to increase their population.
- Today only about 4,800 tigers remain in the wild. They are threatened by loss of habitat and poaching.
Tigers are fearsome predators but they are also some of the most beloved animals in the world. In addition to loving their spectacularly-colored coats, we recognize in them some of the same behaviors we see in a miniature version of pet cats. Some people go so far with that idea they even attempt to domesticate tigers into pets. Even though this is not advisable for most people, captive tigers in zoos and private collections in the United States and other countries might prove to be ways this endangered species can continue to be conserved for future generations. Let’s look at the world tiger population by country. What are the top countries in tiger population, and how does the tiger population in the United States compare?
Tigers (Panthera tigris) are the largest of all the cat species. Males can be up to 1.7 times larger than females, so the sex of a tiger can be determined simply by examining footprints. Males can be up to 122 inches long and weigh up to 569 pounds, while females can grow up to 108 inches long and weigh 368 pounds. Their tails can be 2-3.5 long. Tigers can live in the wild about 15 years; in captivity they may reach 26.
They are extremely muscular with large heads and tails half as long as their bodies. They are instantly recognizable from their dark stripes on orange fur with a white underbelly. The pattern of each tiger’s stripes is unique, like fingerprints on a person. Although in human vision the coloration of a tiger stands out starkly, deer and other prey species often cannot distinguish the color orange from green, so the tiger’s coat hides it well, especially in tall grass. Interestingly, the pattern of a tiger’s coat remains even when the hair is shaved, due to the stubble and hair follicles in the skin.
Tigers are native to Asia, in a broad range extending from the tropical rainforests of India and Southeast Asia to the mountains and boreal forests of Russia and China. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that says cats do not like water, tigers are great swimmers and will get into water to cool off in the tropical heat. They can cross rivers over 4 miles wide and swim up to 18 miles a day. Tigers mark the boundaries of their range with feces, urine, and scent glands and by making scratch marks on trees and they roar to alert other tigers to their presence.
Depending on food sources and available forested terrain, tigers may claim anywhere from 3 square miles to 1,500 square miles of territory. They are largely solitary, territorial predators, but not always so, as they have been observed sometimes in the wild sharing fresh kills. Female tigers tolerate each other better than males, but if a male signals submission to a dominant male, by rolling over on its back and exposing its belly, for example, he is sometimes allowed to occupy the same territory, as long as he keeps his distance.
They will eat whatever medium- to large-sized mammals they can find, but their preferred prey animals are sambar deer and wild boars. They will opportunistically eat a wide range of animals, including peafowl, dogs, monkeys, bears, leopards, snakes, and alligators. With a top speed of 30-40 mph, tigers can easily run down such prey, and with teeth up to 3.5 inches long, they have no trouble dispatching them. Sometimes they drag their kill away to hide it in vegetation. In one case, a tiger brought down an adult gaur and dragged it 39 feet away. Later when 13 men tried to move it, they couldn’t budge it! Tigers are able to kill prey much larger than themselves by biting it on the throat and hanging on until it strangles.
Tigers may mate anytime during the year, but winter is their main breeding season. They have been tracked going as far as 400 miles to make contact with other tiger populations. Sadly, sometimes an unrelated male will kill tiger cubs to make the female more receptive to mating, as tigresses who have recently lost cubs usually give birth to a new litter in about five months. On average females give birth to 2-3 cubs that remain with their mothers for about two years. A dominant cub, usually a male, will emerge as a leader of his siblings and will usually be the first to leave and establish his own territory. Cubs continue growing until they reach maturity at about five years old.
The Last Countries With Wild Tigers
Only about 4,800 tigers are left roaming the wild. Until recently there were still 13 countries with wild tigers, but they are now extinct or close to it in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. This means a list of the top 10 countries with wild tigers is actually a list of all the countries with wild tigers. Nepal is a more hopeful picture. With intentional conservation efforts, they have tripled their tiger numbers to 355 between 2009-2022. Here are the remaining numbers of wild tigers, according to the World Wildlife Fund:
- India: 2967
- Russia: 480-540
- Indonesia: 400-500
- Nepal: 355
- Thailand: 189
- Malaysia: 150
- Bangladesh: 106
- Bhutan: 103
- China: 50
- Myanmar: 22
- Vietnam: 5
- Laos: 2
- Cambodia: 0
Total (est): 4,829-4,989
Tigers In The United States
Tigers don’t roam wild in the United States, but the number in captivity in the country is estimated at about 5,000 – larger than the total global wild tiger population. 95% of these are not kept in public zoos as you might expect but are privately owned and kept in backyards, roadside attractions, and private breeding facilities. In all, seventeen states allow private ownership of tigers. Four states permit unregulated tiger ownership: North Carolina, Alabama, Nevada, and Wisconsin. Thirteen other states allow tiger ownership with a permit: Idaho, Arizona, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Mississippi, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maine.
Tigers are not just bred to be pets, but to make money as attractions. People pay big money for opportunities to play with cubs, pose with tigers for pictures, or watch them perform in exotic animal shows. This creates a large financial incentive to keep breeding cute little cubs. Tiger pelts, bones, and organs are also lucrative on the black market for use in traditional Asian remedies and aphrodisiacs. To some extent, demand for tigers and private breeding of them has helped preserve the species. It has also prevented the loss of the rare white tiger recessive genes that are disappearing in the wild. However, privately bred tigers are often heavily inbred and have a host of medical problems, weakening the genetic pool of the species and making these animals unsuitable for reintroduction into the wild.
Tiger Conservation Efforts
Despite the conservation efforts by various organizations and governments, the number of tigers in the world continues to decline rapidly, declining about 40% just in the last ten years. Some of the main threats to the species are habitat loss, poaching, and the illegal wildlife trade in living specimens, pelts, and other tiger parts. Unfortunately for tigers, their native range coincides with some of the most heavily human-populated areas of Earth. They are sometimes trapped and killed as a threat to livestock or human communities. Tiger parts can sell for tens of thousands of dollars on the global markets, as people believe ingesting them can help them manifest the desirable qualities of the tiger.
The Global Tiger Recovery Program started in 2010. It is a cooperative effort to increase tiger numbers in the few countries where they still survive. Nepal is a success story in this program. By 2022 the wild tiger population there had doubled to 355 individuals. These are some of the strategies governments and private groups are using to conserve the species:
- protecting natural habitats
- reducing contact between people and wild tigers
- researching the species to create new strategies
- monitoring numbers, population trends, and threats
- passing and enforcing laws against poaching and the black market in tigers and tiger pelts and parts.
United States’ Efforts
In 2016, the United States tightened regulations under the Endangered Species Act. This makes it harder to import tigers into the country. The new rules also require a permit to sell a tiger across state lines. And the seller must prove the transaction will help with tiger conservation efforts. The Animal Welfare Act also limits contact with tiger cubs eight to 12 weeks old. This helps reduce the practice of selling photo and petting ops. In this way, it removes some of the incentives for irresponsible breeding.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act was passed in 2022. It strengthens existing laws to allow only qualified entities to own big cats. Current private owners are allowed to keep their animals. However, they must register them with the government. This way, first responders and animal control officers know they are in the community. The Act also restricts public contact with big cats for their safety and for the animals’ welfare.
Ecotourism is also a growing industry that offers opportunities for adventurous trekkers. These folk want to explore wild habitats and perhaps catch a glimpse of an endangered species. Wild Sumatra is one example of a responsible provider of this type of service.
Many people realize animals like tigers are endangered species, but maybe have not understood just how rapidly they are disappearing from our world. Raising them in captivity is dangerous and problematic, not a solution to the problem. Unfortunately, we may be rapidly nearing the time when captive tigers are the only tigers left, leaving us a world that is a little less wild, and a lot less beautiful.
Summary of Tiger Population By Country: How Many Roam The U.S.?
It is estimated that 5,000 tigers are kept in captivity in the United States – most of those animals are not in zoos but are privately owned and kept in backyards, roadside attractions, and private breeding facilities. Here is a list of countries where tigers still roam wild and their calculated population:
|2||Russia||480 – 540|
|3||Indonesia||400 – 500|
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