Sekuro, an Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) at Jungle Cat World Zoo shows off a rather spooky expression. No, he's not trying to tell me he wants to eat me, he's actually contorting his face into an expression called "flehmen".
Just behind a tiger's front teeth on the roof of their mouth, there is a small gland called the Jacobson's organ which helps tiger's decypher the various scents they come across. By curling their lips back and extending their tounge, they can allow the organ to catch a whiff of a nearby smell. This sends information to their brain which helps them determine what it is they have found including whether or not it belongs to a rival tiger or a breeding female. Combined with regular scent-marking, it's a key tool that helps tigers lead solitary lives while maintaining territories and communication with those they wish to exlude as well as those they wish to mate with.
Tigers are the largest of the big cats and are exclusively found in Asia from India to Vietnam, from Indonesia to the Russian Far East. The tiger can be divided into 9 subspecies: 4 are currently critically endangered and 3 are already extinct. Though estimations of tiger populations only a few years ago was 5,500-6,000, today populations are likely closer to 3,200 and are still declining. Dramatic declines of the tiger in India, thought to host the majority of the world's tigers, have fallen to less than 1,411. Overall, the past decade has seen a 40% reduction in tiger habitat, which now represents a mere 7% of its historic range. Poaching is a significant problem throughout the tiger's range, the demand for its body parts in traditional medicines, tonics, and exotic dishes driving a lucrative trade that is wiping out entire populations. Long-term threats include habitat fragmentation and prey depletion, which is accelerating the tiger's demise and subsequently reducing the long-term genetic viability of many populations.
If you want to help, the best for you to do is to educate yourself (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiger)
, never buy products made from tigers or endangered species (freeland.org)
, and tell others. Contact me for more information.