It has been proved that modern Tigers (Panthera tigris) share a distant common ancestry with the long extinct Sabre-Tooth Tigers. But where did the tigers of our time have evolved? Answer to this in itself is a million dollar question. To pin point the actual region of origin is near impossible. Reasons are the time lag between the origin and the modern day is too much. Secondly, the presence of other various predators during those times and the constant movement of animals from one place to other has left scant chance of ever knowing the facts about the cat’s origin.

Whatever knowledge we have today depends largely on few fossils found in Harbin in China, on an island in the Arctic Ocean, from Choukoutien in Java and from the Russian river Lena. Fossils are not very reliable source of information consequently they have created more disagreement than agreement among the experts. Some believe tigers that are as at home among the swamps of India’s Sunderbans in the Ganges delta as they are in the rain forests of Indochina or among the conifers of Manchuria, originated in Siberian region whereas there are others who do not agree with this theory and believe they originated in Asia, a much favoured theory today.

The Siberian theory

According to the believers of this theory tigers evolved some 2.4 million (24 lakh) years ago in Northern Asia or in Siberia, on the fringes of the Arctic. This belief is based on the fossils that have been found in the ice of islands in the region’s north country. The range of this beautiful cat covered whole of Asian landmass, from Siberian heartland to Bali, java, and Sumatra. Its original homeland included eastern Turkey, a wild land dominated by Mount Ararat. Tigers roamed the icy ravines of Szechwan in western China, stretching overland to the forbidden Tibetan plateau and the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk.

Believers of this argument say advancing ice sheath forced these animals to move southwards into the land of modern Manchuria and China. According to the theory, which got more credence after the discovery of early tiger fossils in Alaska, during the course of movement a three-way split took place and the groups moved on to India, South-East Asia and the Caspian Sea. The second group faced one more split, this time into two, and these animals moved onto Malaysia, Burma, Indonesia or Java, Sumatra and Bali. Supporters of this theory say this process concluded about 12,000 years ago when the tiger reached the southern arc from Cape Comorin in India to Bali in Indonesia. Due to certain geological evolutionary factors, the animal remained exclusively an Asian mammal.

Those who do not agree with this theory reject it on the basis that if any animal has originated in snowy Siberia then it would definitely not have stripes which do not gel with the principal of camouflage. According to these experts stripes indicate that tigers originated in the landmass that had forests and tall grasslands where frequent fires probably occurred.

The Asian theory

More experts are of the view that striped cat originated in eastern parts of Asia. According to them South Chinese tiger, which is the original form and has a more primitive skull shape than the other subspecies, is also currently living in its area of origin. Modern Chinese tiger’s shortened cranium and particularly noticeable close-set forward-facing eyes are proof of its primitive lineage.

Scientists believe about 2 million (20 Lakh) years ago tigers split into two groups. First proceeded towards northerly direction to south-west Asia and further up to Russia and the modern Siberian tiger is the offshoot of this stock.

Second group moved into south-easterly direction up to India and Indonesia. Westward movement was halted by the Caspian Sea. Some are of the opinion that the tiger made it as far as South Africa, but this is not correct.

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