Panthera tigris virgata


Kingdom Animalia

Caspian tiger at Berlin Zoo, 1899.


Photo: a black and white photograph was taken in 1899 and shows a captive Caspian in the Berlin Zoo. This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This applies to the European Union, Canada, the United States and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.

Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Order Carnivora
Family Felidae
Genus Panthera
Species Panthera tigris
Subspecies Panthera tigris virgata
Authority (Illiger, 1815)
TEW Status Extinct (EX), Year assessed: 2010
IUCN Status Extinct (EX), Year assessed: 2008
English Name Caspian Tiger, Hyrcanian Tiger, Turan Tiger, Persian Tiger
Danish Name Kaspisk Tiger
Dutch Name Kaspische Tijger
French Name Tigre de la Caspienne
German Name Kaspische Tiger
Spanish Name Tigre del Caspio
Swedish Name Kaspiska Tigern
Synonyms Panthera tigris lecoqi Schwarz, 1916, Panthera tigris trabata Schwarz, 1916, Panthera tigris septentrionalis Satunin, 1904, Panthera tigris sudanensis Deraniyagala, 1951.
Taxonomy New genetic analysis revealed that the extinct Caspian tiger lives on in the Siberian Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica). Researchers from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom collected tissue from 20 Caspian tiger specimens kept in museums across Eurasia. Afterwards, researchers from the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) Laboratory of Genomic Diversity in Frederick, Maryland, sequenced parts of five mitochondrial genes. The Caspian Tiger's mitochondrial DNA is only one letter of genetic code separated from DNA of the Siberian Tiger, while it is readily distinguishable from the other tiger subspecies' DNA. This indicates that the Caspian en the Siberian subspecies are really one. The scientists have concluded that the two are so similar because both were descended from the same migrating ancestor. The ancestor colonized Central Asia via the narrow Gansu Corridor (Silk Road) from eastern China. The researchers suggest that through the early 1900s, Caspian and Siberian tiger populations intermingled, but hunters subsequently isolated the two groups. This resulted in the Siberian population splitting off from the Caspian population only in the past century. (Driscoll et al. 2009)

A quote from Driscoll et al. (2009): "Depending on further study of nuclear genes and morphology, and in view of previous equivocal or conflicting morphological assessments, Caspian and Amur tigers (Panthera tigris virgata, Illiger,1815 and Panthera tigris altaica, Temminck, 1844, respectively) might be considered as synonymous under the prior Panthera tigris virgata trinomial as prescribed by the rules of the ICZN (1999), in which case pronouncing the Caspian Tiger extinct may have been premature".

Characteristics The Caspian tiger was the second largest tiger. The body of this subspecies was quite stocky and elongated with strong legs, big wide paws and unusually large claws. The ears were short and small and gave the appearance of being without hair on the tips. Around the cheeks the Caspian tiger was generously furred and the rest of the pelage was long and thick. The colouration resembles that of the Bengal tiger. The skin specimen in the British Museum has a yellow-gold colour over the back and flanks, while the sides of the body are lighter that the back and the striping also varies from light to dark brown. The chest and abdomen is white with yellow stripes, while the facial area is yellow with brown stripes on the forehead and obvious white patches around the eyes and cheeks. Outer portions of the legs are yellow and the inner areas white. The tail of this subspecies is yellow and has yellowish white stripes. In winter, the hair is very long, and the tiger has a well-developed belly mane and a short nape mane.
Range & Habitat The Caspian tiger once ranged throughout sparse forest habitats and riverine corridors west (Turkey) and south of the Caspian Sea (Iran) and west through Central Asia into the Takla Makan desert of Xinjiang, China (Nowell and Jackson 1996; Abdukadir and Breitenmoser 2008; Jackson and Nowell 2008).

The subspecies occurred in a desert environment, associated with the riverine flora of trees, shrubs and dense reeds and grasses called tugai, associated with watercourses, river basins and lake edges. (Nowell 2003)

Image: the former range of the Caspian tiger (Panthera tigris virgata) in 1900 (in red). Created by Peter Maas for The Extinction Website. This image has been released under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives 3.0 Licence.

Food The Caspian tiger is known to have followed the migratory herds of their preferred prey animals, such as the boar. In recognition of this, the Kazakh people referred to this tiger as the “road” or “travelling leopard”.
History & Population

In the mid-1800s Caspian tigers were killed 180 km northeast of Atbasar, Kazakhstan and near Barnaul, Russia (Ognev 1935, Mazák 1981). The only reported Caspian tiger from Iraq was killed near Mosul in 1887 (Kock 1990). In 1899 the last Caspian tiger near the Lob Nor basin in Xinjiang, China, was killed (Ognev 1935). Caspian tigers disappeared from the Tarim River basin in Xinjiang, China, by the 1920s. (Nowell & Jackson 1996) In 1922, the last known tiger in the Caucasus region was killed near Tbilisi, Georgia, after killing domestic lifestock (Ognev 1935). The last record of the Caspian tiger on the Ili River, their last stronghold in the region of Lake Balkhash, China, dates to 1948. (Nowell & Jackson 1996)

The Russian government have worked heavily to eradicate the Caspian tiger during planning a huge land reclamation programme in the beginning of the 20th century. They considered there was no room for the tiger in their plans and so instructed the Russian army to exterminate all tigers found around the area of the Caspian Sea, a project that was carried out very efficiently sadly enough. Once the extermination of the Caspian tiger was almost complete the farmers followed, clearing forests and planting crops like rice and cotton. Due to intensive hunting and deforestation, the Caspian tiger retreated first from the lush lowlands to the forested ranges, then to the marshes around some of the larger rivers, and finally, deeper into the mountains, until it almost certainly became extinct. The last stronghold of the Caspian tiger in the former Soviet Union was in the Tigrovaya Balka area. Though the tigers were reported as being found here until the mid-1950s, the reliability of these claims is unknown. 

The most frequently quoted extinction date is late 1950s, but has almost no evidence to back it up. It appears this date came to be accepted after being quoted by H. Ziaie in "A Field Guide to the Mammals of Iran". According to E. Firouz in “A Guide to the Fauna of Iran, 1999”, the last tiger was killed in 1947 near Agh-Ghomish Village, 10 km East of Kalaleh, on the way to Minoodasht-Bojnoord. Some reports state that the last Caspian tiger was shot in Golestan National Park (Iran) or in Northern Iran in 1959 (Vuosalo 1976). However, other reports claim that the last Chinese Caspian tigers disappeared from the Manas River basin in the Tian Shan mountains, west of Ürümqi, China, in the 1960s. (Nowell & Jackson 1996) The last record from the lower reaches of the Amu-Darya river near the Aral Sea was an unconfirmed observation near Nukus in 1968 while tigers disappeared from the river’s lower reaches and the Pyzandh Valley once a stronghold, in the Turkmen-Uzbek-Afghan border region by the early 1970s (Heptner and Sludskii 1972). There are even claims of a documented killing of this subspecies at Uludere, Hakkari in Turkey in Februaty of 1970 (Üstay 1990; Can 2004). And yes, other reports state that the final Caspian tiger was captured and killed in Northeast Afghanistan in 1997. An exact date of extinction is unknown. No one knows it really for certain. (Nowell & Jackson 1996) Recent genetic research even suggests that the Caspian Tiger never became extinct, but that they are one and the same as the surviving Siberian Tigers (Driscoll et al. 2009).

Caspian Tiger rediscovered in Turkey?

Turkish scientists, during a study on the field, reached some information on the presence of the Caspian Tiger. The following excerpts are taken from "Can, O.E. 2004. Status, Conservation and Management of Large Carnivores in Turkey. Council of Europe. 29 pages. Strasbourg, France".

"Within the framework of Southeastern Anatolia Biodiversity Research Project of WWF-Turkey, a survey was conducted to reveal the large mammal presence and distribution in the region (Can & Lise, 2004). Within the framework of the first attempt to collect systematically the large mammal data in Southeastern Turkey. First, a questionnaire was designed and distributed to 450 military posts in the region. The questionnaire included questions about the presence of large mammal species and each questionnaire were accompanied with Turkey's Mammal Poster of Turkish Society for the Conservation of Nature (which became WWF-Turkey later). The questionnaires were filled out by military personnel in cooperation with the local people and 428 questionnaires were returned to WWF-Turkey. The questionnaires also included questions related with the historical tiger presence in the region. Later, the questionnaire results were used to identify the areas that the field survey will focus."  (Can 2004)

"In the questionnaire results, some military personal had presented rumours about the presence of large cats in the region. Moreover, during the interviews with local people, the mammal team collected rumours about big cat sightings and met local people that claimed to hear roaring from different sites. In addition, it was reported that there was a local tiger pelt trade in the region and three to five tigers were killed in each year and the pelts were sold to rich land lords in Iraq until mid-1980s. This also confirms Turan (1984) who has obtained his information from local hunters in the region. Baytop (1974) similarly reported that 1-8 tigers were killed each year in Ţőrnak region."  (Can 2004)

"Considering that, one to eight tigers were killed each year in Eastern Turkey until the mid 1980s, the tiger that was killed in Uludere was a young individual according to the stripe patterns, the Caspian tiger is likely to have existed in the region at least until the early 1990s. Nevertheless, due to mainly lack of interest in addition to security and safety reasons trained biologists had not attempted to survey in Eastern Turkey before." (Can 2004)

It does not prove that the Caspian Tiger survives, but the researchers think they should investigate it seriously.

Extinction Causes One of the most important factors in the Caspian tiger's decline and extinction was that it was already vulnerable due to the restricted nature of its distribution: riverine habitats were also intensively used by humans. Hunting, and loss of habitat and large wild prey are the primary causes of the loss of the subspecies. (Nowell 2003)
Conservation Attempts There have been no attempts to preserve the Caspian tiger as fare as I know. Captive breeding was maybe an option, because there is evidence that a Caspian tiger was kept in Berlin Zoo (Germany) see the picture shown above this page. Other evidence of captive Caspian tigers is that the Afghani Prince, Ayoub Khan, has had a Caspian tiger cub. This cub was given to him as a gift from the Persian Ghajar Prince, Gheisar Massoud, grandson of Nasser-edin Shah. This cub can be seen on a photograph that was taken at Prince Ayoub Khan’s residence in Tehran, Iran. He was later crowned King of Afghanistan. But sadly enough no conservation attempts have been made in captivity. There are no Caspian tigers left in captivity (Nowell 2003).
Museum Specimens There are some skins from the Caspian tiger in museums around the world, and a limited number of photographs showing live and dead Caspian tigers are available. Specimens can be found in the British Museum, Nature & Wildlife Museum of Iran, Siberian Zoological Museum,the Medical College in Baku, Azerbaijan. Institute of Zoology in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and in the Zoological Museum, M.S.U. in Moscow, Russia, and the Zoological Museum, R.A.S. in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Driscoll et al. 2009)
Relatives According to recent genetic research the Caspian Tiger's closest living relative is the Siberian or Amur Tiger, Panthera tigris altaica (Temminck, 1844). The results of this genetic analysis even suggest that the Caspian and the Siberian Tiger should be taxonomically considered a single subspecies. (Driscoll et al. 2009)

The other five surviving tiger subspecies are the:

South China tiger, Panthera tigris amoyensis (Hilzheimer, 1905). 

Indo-Chinese tiger, Panthera tigris corbetti Mazak, 1968

Malayan tiger, Panthera tigris jacksoni Luo et al., 2004

Sumatran tiger, Panthera tigris sumatrae Pocock, 1829

Bengal tiger, Panthera tigris tigris (Linnaeus, 1758)


Two other subspecies became recently extinct:

Bali tiger, Panthera tigris balica (Schwarz, 1912)

Javan Tiger, Panthera tigris sondaica (Temminck, 1844)


Photo: a Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) from Berlin Zoo. Photographed on 30 April 2006. A full resolution version can be found at Wikimedia Commons. The copyright holder of this work has release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide.


These six surviving subspecies are critically endangered en may soon follow the already extinct subspecies, if nothing more will be done to protect them!


Caspian Tiger - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species - Panthera tigris ssp. virgata

Tiger Territory - Caspian Tiger

Green Party of Iran - News - The Caspian Tiger

References Abdukadir, A. and Breitenmoser, U. (2008). The Last Tigers in Xinjiang. CAT NEWS No 47.

Baytop, T. (1974). La présence du Vrai tigre, Panthera tigris (Linné, 1758) en Turquie. Säugetlerkdi, Mitt 22: 254-256. (In French).

Can, O.E. (2004). Status, Conservation and Management of Large Carnivores in Turkey. Council of Europe. 29 pages. Strasbourg, France.

Can, Ö. E. & Y Lise. (2004). Distribution of large mammals in Southeastern Anatolia: Recommendations & priority areas for their conservation (in GAP Biodiversity Research Project 2001-2003.

Driscoll C.A., Yamaguchi N., Bar-Gal G.K., Roca A.L., Luo S., et al. (2009). Mitochondrial Phylogeography Illuminates the Origin of the Extinct Caspian Tiger and Its Relationship to the Amur Tiger. PLoS ONE 4(1): e4125. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004125

Heptner, V.H. and Sludskii, A.A. (1972). [Mammals of the Soviet Union. Vol III: Carnivores (Feloidea).] Vyssha Shkola, Moscow (in Russian). Engl. transl. edited by R.S. Hoffmann, Smithsonian Inst. and the Natl. Science Fndn., Washington DC, 1992.

International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature., Ride WDL, International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature, Natural History Museum (London England), International Union of Biological Sciences. General Assembly (1999) International code of zoological nomenclature = Code international de nomenclature zoologique. London: International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature. pp xxix, 306.

Jackson, P. & Nowell, K. (2008). Panthera tigris ssp. virgata. In: IUCN 2008. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. <>. Downloaded on 08 March 2009.

Kock, D. (1990). Historical record of a tiger, Panthera tigris (Linnaeus, 1758) in Iraq. Zoology in the Middle East 4: 11-15.

Mazák, V. (1981). Panthera tigris. Mammal. Species 152: 1-8.

Nowell, K. (2003). Panthera tigris ssp. virgata. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. <>. Downloaded on 09 December 2006.

Nowell, K. and Jackson, P. (compilers and editors) (1996). Wild Cats. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. (online version)

Ognev, S.I. (1935). Mammals of the U.S.S.R. and adjacent countries. Israel Program for Scientific Translations, Jerusalem ( 1962).

Turan, N. (1984). Game and wildlife of Turkey – Mammals. Ongun Kardeşler Matbaacılık Sanayii. Turkey (In Turkish).

Üstay, A.H. (1990). Hunting in Turkey. BBA, Istanbul.

Vuosalo, E. (1976). Once there was a tiger. Wildlife Mar: 126- 130 (Teheran).

Last updated: 11th April 2010.

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