Tiger Bela

Reading Between the Stripes

Myth-busting facts about tigers


The tiger is the largest big cat in the world and has always attracted the attention of people, worldwide! Let us dissect the myths and facts of these iconic animals.

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  • Tigers can live up to 25 years: Khan was the oldest tiger at LIONSROCK and was born on September 29, 1999 - and was 24 years old when he passed away. Khan enjoyed watching his neighbours and lived with his sister Radja in one enclosure. He had a close bond with her, and they enjoyed each other's company. Khan and Radja were kept in a transport wagon for much of their lives in Germany with the four siblings, called the Starlight Circus Tigers. The six were taken away from the Starlight Circus by authorities when not enough space could be provided for the tigers in an outside enclosure. They were handed over to LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary in the Eastern Free State, in South Africa in November 2013. It is believed the oldest tiger living in captivity was Flavio, a circus-rescued tiger, sheltered in a zoo in Florida until he passed away at the age of 25 years.
  • Tigers can weigh as much as 300 kilograms: In 1988 a male Siberian tiger named Jaipur made his entry into the Guinness World Records Book for a record weight of 423 kilograms. This is the highest recorded weight for any tiger ever. This tiger belonged to a private facility owner in New Jersey, USA. The smallest tiger at LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary, Mafalda, weighs only 94 kilograms. She is a Bengal tiger who lived with three other tigers in a train carriage in San Luis in South America. Abandoned by a circus on a farm, the landowner looked after them for 15 years until they were rescued and transferred to LIONSROCK in March 2022.
  • Tigers like water: Bela and Sharuk are two LIONSROCK tigers whose favourite pastime is splashing in their waterhole. They arrived at LIONSROCK in 2019 from Germany where the owner was forced to hand them over by the local veterinary authority, because he did not meet the prescribed keeping conditions. In the wild, tigers love to play in the water and having access to water in captivity is part of the reason these two rescued tigers are flourishing. Experts believe tigers can swim up to six kilometres in one bout of waterplay!


tigers myths 

  • There are four subspecies of tigers: There are six subspecies of tigers remaining of the nine catalogued species of tigers. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), three subspecies are extinct namely the Bali, Javanese, and Caspian tiger species. The six remaining sub-species are the Bengal, Siberian, South China, Malayan, Indo-Chinese and Sumatran tigers. At LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary Raspoetin, Mirza, Rafik and Zita are some of the Siberian tigers and the Bengal species are represented by recent LIONSROCK arrivals, the four Train Tigers: Messi, Mafalda, Sandro, and Gustavo.
  • Tigers smell with their teeth and tongues while snarling: Tigers do not smell with their teeth and tongues, though this may look to be that case. Instead, tigers inhale scents by raising their lips, exposing their fangs and tongue, with a wrinkled nose, to draw the scent to the rooftop of their mouth to their Jacobson organ. This organ is a pouch-like structure located directly behind the front incisors. It functions through two small openings that direct scent particles from the air to nerves located within the structure. The nerves transmit the message to the part of the brain part of where scent is identified.
  • Tigers are good tree climbers: Tigers are not normally tree climbers as they are too heavy to be supple enough to navigate branches. Tigers Jade and Jasper have however been seen on several occasions at LIONSROCK to be jumping and climbing into the trees at their enclosure. The two settled very well into their enclosure on a hill with several trees after being transferred from Seaview Predator Park in Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape in June 2021.
 Tiger Shevar at LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary

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