Indochinese tiger

Common Name:
Indochinese Tiger
Scientific Name:
Panthera tigris corbetti
Type:
Mammals
Diet:
Carnivore
Average Life Span In The Wild:
10 to 15 years
Size:
8 to 9 feet
Weight:
220 to more than 400 pounds
IUCN Red List Status:
Endangered
Current Population Trend:
Decreasing

What is the Indochinese tiger?

The Indochinese tiger is one of six subspecies of tigers still living in the wild today. They’re native to the tropical and subtropical forests of Southeast Asia. Historically, Indochinese tigers lived in Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. Their population, however, has declined to a mere 250 individuals, with breeding populations believed to remain only in Myanmar and Thailand. They’re listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, though some researchers say they should be considered critically endangered instead.

Physical and genetic distinctions between tiger subspecies are difficult to identify because few animals remain in the wild to study, and there’s a wide range of variation within each subspecies. Indochinese tigers generally differ from other subspecies by their size, coloring, and skull shape. They’re about 20 percent smaller than Bengal tigers, one of the largest of the tiger subspecies. Their fur grows shorter and with a darker color and narrower stripes, helping them better tolerate the heat of the tropical forest and providing better camouflage with their surroundings. The skulls of male Indochinese tigers have a sagittal crest, a ridge that runs lengthwise along the top of the head towards the back.

Behavior

Like all tigers, Indochinese tigers are solitary animals. They only interact with each other while mating or raising cubs. Nonetheless, they still communicate often, making sounds by roaring, grunting, hissing, and chuffing. They communicate nonverbally too, marking their territory by spraying urine and clawing trees.

Tiger cubs live with their mothers until they reach maturity at 18 to 24 months old. Mothers have litters of one to seven cubs at a time, though typically only two cubs will survive because the mother cannot hunt enough prey to feed them all.

Diet and hunting

Tigers are the largest mammal carnivores on land. Indochinese tigers’ prey includes animals such as wild boar, muntjac and sambar deer, macaques, and the goat-like serow. They also sometimes prey on domesticated cattle and goats. They hunt once or twice per week and can eat up to 75 pounds of food at once. These apex predators quietly stalk their prey for 20 to 30 minutes. Their striped coats disrupt the outline of their bodies, helping them blend in to the trees. When they’re ready to ambush their prey, tigers will pounce and attack with their large teeth, strong jaws, and sharp claws. They often hunt at night, relying on sight and sound to locate prey. Unlike most other cats, tigers are good swimmers and do not mind hunting near water.

Threats

Indochinese tigers have suffered declining populations for years. Until the 1930s, many people hunted the cats for sport and regarded them as pests, severely depleting the population. Currently, a major threat to the remaining wild tigers is the decrease in their prey. These large carnivores eat a lot, but they’re often in competition with humans for the same foods and can’t find enough prey. This, and encroachment of human settlements into their habitat, are why tigers sometimes attack livestock. When that happens, humans may kill them in retaliation.

As people have converted forests into farms and plantations, sites of commercial logging, and human settlements, Indochinese tigers have lost habitat. Additionally, habitat fragmentation—when a habitat is broken into separate pieces—forces the tigers into smaller, isolated populations. Tigers’ habitats are fragmented by other land uses, such as farmland, and by barriers that make it difficult for them to move around, such as roads. As a result, Indochinese tigers are sometimes blocked from finding mates.

It also can make them more susceptible to poachers, who trade their skins, bones, and meat. Tiger parts are used in traditional medicines, tiger bone wine, rugs, and jewelry. The market for these products—though illegal—exists primarily in China and Vietnam, where consuming or displaying tiger products serves as a status symbol.

Conservation

In 2010 governments from 13 different countries, including all six that historically contained Indochinese tiger habitats, adopted the Global Tiger Recovery Program, which set a goal to double the number of wild tigers by 2022. Methods to accomplish this include engaging local communities to lessen human-tiger conflicts, preserving habitats by protecting breeding grounds and creating corridors between fragmented populations, and reducing poaching through strengthened national policy and law enforcement.

Thailand is considered the last stronghold of the subspecies, with two main populations in the protected areas of the Western Forest Complex and the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex. In 2016 a report estimated its national population between roughly a hundred and 128 individuals. Given the Western Forest Complex’s area and prey, the habitat has the potential to support as many as 2,000 tigers.

In Myanmar, studies have shown low and declining populations in key habitats. In 2019 the government announced its national population was at least 22 individuals, with evidence of breeding in the wild. Although Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam do not have significant Indochinese tiger populations, these countries still have large areas of habitat that can support their reintroduction.

Research has shown that tiger populations can grow quickly and recover from small numbers as long as their habitat and prey are protected and anti-poaching laws are enforced. Therefore, concentrated efforts on preserving habitats, protecting wild tigers from poaching, and reintroducing tigers in historically viable regions can help save the Indochinese tiger subspecies from extinction.

Read This Next

Can science help personalize your diet?
Hogs are running wild in the U.S.—and spreading disease
Salman Rushdie on the timeless beauty of the Taj Mahal

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet