The majestic Turanian tiger once roamed throughout Central Asia. This large cat was an important part of the life, culture and habitat of the region. He left his mark on the hearts and history of his human neighbors. However, like many other wild species, the Turanian tiger was the victim of human expansion and greed. Now, it may be his turn to make a comeback.
The Turanian tiger is part of the Felidae family, which includes large and small cats, and the Panthera genus, which includes all of the species of lions and tigers. Like other tigers, the Turanian tiger is descended from the original cat-like animals that evolved over 60 milllion years ago, including the saber-toothed tiger. The Turanian tiger is one of the larger subspecies of tiger, third in size and weight behind only the Bengal and Amur tigers. The Turanian tiger also is known as the Caspian tiger, Hyrcanian tiger, Turan tiger, and Persian tiger.
Habitat and Diet
The Turanian tiger once was found throughout the forests and river regions of most of central and east Asia, including China, Armenia, Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey. The tiger followed migrating herds of animals, including deer, gazelles, and their favorite prey, the wild boar. The Kazakh people called the Turanian tiger the "road leopard" and the "travelling leopard" in recognition of the tiger's long migrations.
The Turanian tiger was an important symbol in the culture of central Asia. The Tigris River, which flows from Turkey to Iran, was named after the legend of a tiger carrying a princess across the river on his back. Images of the Turanian tiger also appear in Islamic art in the region, including carpets, textiles and building facades.
Unfortunately, the skins of the Turanian tiger also were popular. Hunters killed the tigers throughout the region, either for trophy animals or to sell the furs to collectors. In the early 20th century, the Russian military began eliminating the tigers from areas where settlements were planned. The combination of hunting and influx of people caused the Turanian tiger to be labeled extinct in 1957.
There currently are no Turanian tigers left in the wild or in captivity. However, modern DNA testing has shown that Amur (Siberian) tigers are almost genetically identical to the now-extinct Turanian tiger. Currently, the World Wildlife Fund is working with the governments of Russia and Kazakhstan to reintroduce the closely related tiger in Central Asia, in hopes of recreating the Turanian tiger through natural evolutionary processes.