Posts Tagged ‘tigers’

Tigers (Panthera tigris) Suppress Dhole (Cuon alpinus) Populations.

April 1, 2021

A new study determined tigers suppress dhole pack sizes in India. Dhole packs are smaller in areas with higher densities of tigers, even if there is an higher density of potential prey species. The scientists conducting the study used camera traps to estimate pack size and tiger numbers. In Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve where tiger density is high, there were 7 dhole packs averaging 6.4 dholes per pack. In Navegaon-Naziri Tiger Reserve where tiger density is lower, there were 5 dhole packs averaging 16.8 dogs per pack. Pack sizes were 2.6 times greater in areas with lower tiger density. Both reserves are in a subtropical dry deciduous forest zone dominated by teak, argun, and giant crepe myrtle trees. The terrain is somewhat hilly. Leopards are another important large predator in the reserves, and the leopard population is also negatively impacted by tigers. Common prey species in the reserves include spotted deer, sambar deer, barking deer, nilgai antelope, wild boar, and gaur–a large species of cattle. Dhole pack sizes do increase in areas with greater prey density, but the abundance of tigers is a greater influence on pack size. Dholes tend to prey on smaller animals in areas with lots of tigers, so they can consume more of the animal before a tiger drives them away from the kill. Tigers depress dhole populations by directly hunting them and by chasing packs away from their kills.

Map of tiger reserves where the below referenced study took place. Map from the below referenced study.

Tigers totally dominate dholes. The authors of the study saw tigers kill dholes on 5 different occasions and drive packs away from their kills 23 times. They saw no instances of dholes killing tigers or driving them away from their kills.

Spotted deer are an important prey item for tigers and dholes.
Nilgai antelope, also known as blue buck are another important prey item for tigers and dholes. Hunters introduced nilgai antelope to Texas about 100 years ago, and now there is a feral population of 37,000 in that state.

India has the highest dhole population in the world. There are small packs in the northern montane forest, and larger packs in the dry deciduous forests of central and south India. Since tigers were eliminated from Laos, dhole populations have increased there. Dholes formerly ranged across most of Asia, and during the Pleistocene they ranged into North America, though fossil evidence there is limited to 1 site in Mexico.

Siberian tigers are known to depress wolf populations, and lions depress hyena and hunting dog populations in Africa. I wonder if big cats suppressed canid populations in Pleistocene North America. Saber-tooths were very powerful fanged cats, and American lions grew larger than any big cat species. Pleistocene jaguars grew as large or larger than modern tigers and are at least as common as dire wolves in the fossil record of Florida. There really is no way to know because abundance in the fossil record doesn’t necessarily reflect actual abundance in life.


Bhanda, A.; P. Ghaskodbi, P. Nigram, and B. Habib

“Dhole Pack Size Variation: Assessing the Effect of Prey Availability and Apex Predator”

Ecology and Evolution March 29, 2021

Panthera atrox! What Kind of Cat was it?

July 28, 2010

One of the biggest cats to ever stalk the world roamed across North America during the Pleistocene.  Panthera atrox, weighing up to 500 pounds and possibly more, was a giant in the genus that includes lions, tigers, jaguars, and leopards.  It fed upon the bison and horses and camels that grazed the Ice Age grasslands and woodlands.  Atrox is a Latin word, meaning cruel, though it’s an error for humans to attach our emotions to an animal that merely did what it needed to do to survive.  Nevertheless, I pity any poor animal caught in the clutches of this powerful predator.

The first fossil specimen of this species was discovered in Mississippi in 1850, and its discovery immediately caused scientific controversy.  Some thought the skull resembled that of a tiger; others thought it was a lion’s skull.  By 1930 scientists had learned how to determine the difference between lion and tiger skulls.  It seems the sutures on the foreheads of the two species are quite different.  Moreover, tigers have noticeably longer nasals.  And from a view of the top of the skull, lion nostrils are visible because their skulls are more elongated, whereas those of the tiger can’t be seen from that angle.  Because Panthera atrox‘s skull closely resembled that of the lion, scientists determined that’s what it was.  Now, a new study using statistics based on data from detailed measurements of lion, tiger, jaguar, and atrox skulls and jaws, has upended the line of reasoning that assumed Panthera atrox was a lion.

The jaw bone of Panthera atrox most closely matches that of the jaguar, though it’s not an exact match, just like the skull of atrox most closely resembles that of the lion but is larger and more elongate in shape, and so is not an exact match of that species either.  So what was it?  The authors of the study referenced below measured every part of the skulls and jaws from 23 atrox fossils, 78 tigers, 126 lions, and 57 jaguars.  They then did a statistical analysis of the results and found that despite deviations between individual specimens of each species, all the measurements clustered into 4 groups, corresponding to each of the 4 species–strong evidence that Panthera atrox was indeed a distinct species.

Though this study surprises me, it makes sense because fossils of Panthera atrox are on average consistently 25% larger than anatomical specimens from extant lions.

Fossils of Panthera atrox are relatively common in western fossil sites, but they’ve also been found in Florida, and South Carolina in addition to the original type specimen discovered in Mississippi.  Undoubtedly, it occurred in Georgia.  True lions did live north of the ice sheet in what today is Alaska, but jaguars and Panthera atrox never advanced above the Cordilleran and Laurentide glaciers that covered what is now Canada.

The scientists who authored this recent study conclude that both Panthera atrox and jaguars descended from a Pliocene-age cat known as Panthera gombaszoengis which is sometimes referred to as a Eurasian jaguar.  This species colonized North America at the beginning of the Pliocene and different populations split into different species: some inhabiting forests evolved into jaguars, same living in open prairies evolved into Panthera atrox, which heretofore on this blog, I’ll refer to as the giant panther.

I believe genetic studies will eventually support this study.

The giant panther had a larger brain than lions and probably was more intelligent, making them a successful large predator, able to kill large game without the help of others of their species.

Because the giant panther is not as closely related to lions as formerly thought, it’s unlikely to have lived in prides.  Instead, like the vast majority of cat species, it survived as a solitary predator and competed with dire wolves and saber-tooths over the many large ungulate species then extant.  Throw in the mighty scavenging short-faced bear (Arctodus simus) and battles galore must have been the norm during Pleistocene dinnertimes.


Christiansen, Per; and John Harris

“Craniomandibular morphology and phylogenetic affinities of Panthera atrox: Implications for evolution and paliobiology of the lion lineage.”

Journal of Vertebrate Zoology 29 (3) 934-945 September 2009

Note: Perhaps the giant panther looked like these jaguar/lion hybrids, though I guess they had a tawny coat, possibly lightly spotted.