The Caspian tiger is a Panthera tigris subspecies believed to have extinct around 1970s. It was one of the biggest cats that have ever lived on earth. This sub-species was declared extinct by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) in 2003.
By 1920s, Caspian tigers disappeared from Xinjiang’s Tarim River basin. The last officially documented sighting came in 1958 near Afghanistan border. In 1960s, they disappeared from the Manasi River basin. The last sighting from the lower reaches of Amu-Darya River came in Aral Sea region came in 1968.
|Scientific Name||P. t. virgata|
|Other Names||Hyrcanian tiger, Mazandaran tiger, Turan tiger, Persian tiger.|
|Size||Male – 200 cm to 270 cm in length.Female – 160 cm to 180 cm in length.|
|Weight||Male – 230 to 250 kgsFemale – 200 to 230 kgs|
|Skull size||Male – 297.0 to 365.8 mmFemale – 195.7 to 255.5 mm|
|Diet||Wild pigs, domestic animals and cervids like red deer, goitered gazelle, roe deer etc.|
The yellow color of its pelage was more uniform and brighter than its Far Eastern sub-species. It had narrower stripes of cinnamon or brown shades. The difference between their summer and winter coat was striking. The winter pelage was more pallid with less distinct patterns.
Historical data suggests that Caspian tiger inhabited sparse forests, primarily near lake edges, river basins and watercourses.
Their patchy distribution range included south and west of the Caspian Sea – from Turkey, Iran and east towards Takla Makan desert of Xinjiang, China. They were also found in Turkestan and Afghanistan.
Occasional sighting claims come from remote parts of Afghanistan and distant forested areas of Turkmenistan. But experts did not find any solid evidence to prove their existence. The reported paw marks of Caspian tigers could have been of Persian leopards. Some reports suggest that the last specimen was captured and killed in northeast Afghanistan in 1997.
Reasons for Extinctions
This sub-species was already vulnerable because of their restricted range – held in within watercourses surrounded by huge expanses of desert. The whole extirpation was triggered by several circumstances.
They were ruthlessly killed in large numbers by hunting parties and also by Russian army who were used to clear predators from potential agricultural lands and settlements near forests.
Increasing human population near watercourses and deforestation also played a crucial role as it not just recoiled the range of Caspian tigers but it also shortened the number of their prey species in the middle of the nineteenth century.
It is also believed that natural calamities and diseases played a role in their extirpation.
- The last known specimen in Causasus was killed in 1922.
- In 1887, the only individual in Iraq was killed in Mosul.
- In Kazakhstan, the last individual was reported near Ili River in 1948.
- In Iran, the last specimen was seen in 1958.
- In Turkmenistan, the last Caspian tiger was killed in January 1954.
Tigrovaya Balka, the very first protected region to save Caspian tigers, was established in Tajikistan in 1938. It was the last stronghold of this sub-species in its range. The last specimen spotted in this region was in 1958.
Tigers were legally protected in the Soviet Union since 1947. In Iran, the Caspian tigers were declared protected in 1957. In 1970s, researchers from Iran Department of the Environment looked for Caspian tigers for many years, but there was no evidence of their presence.
Phylogenetic relationship to Siberian tiger
In early 21st century, scientists from Hebrew University of Jerusalem, U.S. National Cancer Institute and the University of Oxford, collected tissue samples from Caspian tiger specimens that are kept in museums throughout Europe and Asia. They examined the phylogenetic relationships of Panthera tigris subspecies and observed a noteworthy similarity between Caspian and Amur tiger. Depending on the assessment, they said that the ancestors of these tiger subspecies colonized Central Asia less than ten-thousand years ago.
- The Turkestan specimens of the Caspian tigers were somewhat larger than other individuals lived elsewhere in its native range.
- In January, 1954, a Caspian tiger killed in Kopet-Dag (near the Sumbar River) had a skull length of 385 mm. which is substantially more than its known average size.
- There are claims of a documented killing in Turkey in 1970. Questionnaire surveys showed that around 1 – 8 tigers were killed every year in eastern Turkey in the middle of 1980s. Some believe that the Caspian tigers had survived till early 1990s.
- The Caspian tiger is known to have traveled along the migratory herds of their favored prey animals.
Proposed tiger population restoration in Central Asia
Shook up by the recent findings that the Siberian tiger is the closest relative of the Caspian tiger, there was suggestion whether Siberian tigers could be introduced into a same place in the same range where Caspian tiger used to inhabit.
A study suggested that a feasible tiger population of around hundred individuals would need a region of around at least 5000 km2 with rich prey populations. But, such habitat is not available at this point of time.