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Genetic Study Reveals Sumatran Tigers Are A Distinct Species From All Mainland Tigers

JUNE 10, 1998--A study of mitochondrial DNA sequences of tigers, published this month in Animal Conservation, demonstrates that Sumatran tigers are a distinct species from any group of living tigers - a finding that has significant implications for tiger conservation efforts. The study was conducted by a research team supported by the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics Studies, a joint initiative of The New York Botanical Garden and the American Museum of Natural History. The team included researchers from the American Museum of Natural History, the Wadsworth Center of the New York State Department of Health, and DePaul University.

While all tigers are under severe threat of extinction in the wild, Sumatran tigers are currently underrepresented in the captive breeding programs of the world's zoos. The discovery that they represent a unique species indicates an urgent need to increase conservation management both on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the only location where these tigers are found, and in zoos around the world.

Traditionally, the tiger has been considered a single species with five living subspecies: the South China tiger; the Siberian tiger; the Bengal tiger; the Indochinese tiger; and the Sumatran tiger. (Three other subspecies have recently become extinct: the Bali tiger in the late 1930s; the Caspian tiger in the 1950s; and the Javan tiger in the 1970s). Prior to the current study, neither genetic analysis, nor study of tiger markings, color, or size had yielded the necessary data to distinguish whether any of the five living subspecies were sufficiently distinct to be considered a separate species.

Currently, there are approximately 400 to 500 Sumatran tigers left in the wild and 235 in captive breeding programs. Sumatrans are the smallest of the living tigers, with males ranging from seven to eight feet in length and weighing between 220 and 310 pounds. In contrast, male Siberians, the larg
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Contact: Elizabeth Chapman
chapman@amnh.org
212-769-5762
American Museum of Natural History
9-Jun-1998


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