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Understanding the Evolution of the Tiger

May 28, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 142

Wildlife enthusiasts planning on taking a Tiger safari may be interested to know a bit about the evolution of this awe-commanding creature. An apex predator, it is superbly adapted to the role, the descendent of a proud line that most biologists trace back to the prehistoric Sabre-Toothed cats. To understand its genetic history is to gain an enhanced appreciation of its place in nature and the importance of preserving it, so read on for a glimpse into the Tiger's mighty lineage.


The Tiger is such an impressive creature and effective hunter thanks to multiple adaptations. Many of the characteristics that people look out for while on Tiger safari are in fact part of the animal's toolkit for survival - including its most iconic feature, its striped coat. Providing excellent camouflage, the coats of various subspecies match their particular habitat, so the Siberian Tiger has a pale, thick coat perfect for icy landscapes, while the Bengal Tiger ranges from russet to flame-yellow in colour, making it right at home in the vibrant forests and grasslands of the Indian subcontinent. Its strong, compact physique makes it an excellent predator, capable of swimming, running, and jumping so powerfully that witnesses often compare it to flying.


The origins and early evolution of the Tiger are hotly contested among palaeontologists. Fossils dating from two million years ago show us a creature with direct lineage to the modern animal, but earlier fossil records of pantherine - Tiger-like - animals leave much open to debate. At what point did Sabre-Toothed cats (dated to around 35 million years ago) evolve into subspecies that can be linked to Tigers, and what were the key evolutionary stages along the way? A recent find may provide a lot of answers, as well as new questions. The fossil in question is a skull dated to around 2.5 million years ago, remarkably similar to the skulls of the animals you can see on Tiger safari today. Found in China, it gives credence to the theory that the South China Tiger is the origin of all extant subspecies - and it tells us that the creature's early adaptations were so successful that it has hardly needed to evolve for at least two and a half million years.


It is testament to their superb genetic makeup that these magnificent creatures became the top predator in so many diverse regions; by virtue of its excellent adaptations, the species should be one of nature's great success stories, and yet human activity has pushed it to almost the brink of extinction. However, human conservation efforts are also giving these animals hope for survival. With increased awareness of their importance in local and international communities, vital steps are being taken; everyone, from global leaders to Tiger safari participants, can benefit from and contribute to this awareness, which in turn can help us to learn more about their role in ecosystems past, present and, hopefully, future.

Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer. Naturetrek is a tour operator specialising in expert-led natural history and Tiger safari tours worldwide. Naturetrek brings over 25 years of experience to their Tiger safari tours in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.

Source: EzineArticles
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