Evalu Falatanoi, of Linwood High School, asks :-

Why do tigers have stripes?

Rod East, the Director of Operations for the National Institute for Water and Atmosphere and who is a zoologist with an interest in big cats, responded.

The tiger hunts by ambushing its prey. Its natural food consists of large animals such as water buffalo and deer, which it stalks until it is close enough to make a short rush and, sometimes, a spring to bring down the prey. When seizing and killing prey, a tiger's main target is the neck. It usually kills its prey by a powerful bite to the throat, which is not released until the animal has died from suffocation.

This hunting method means that the tiger has to be well enough camouflaged to be able to stalk as close as possible to its prey. Most of the animals it preys on can run much faster than the tiger, and they would escape easily if if they could see the tiger before it rushed and sprang at them. The tiger's stripes are a superb camouflage in its natural habitat in the forests of Asia. These forests are interspersed with clearings, providing a mixture of light and shade which the tiger exploits very effectively. The tiger spends the day hidden in the forest, emerging in the evening and early part of the night to stalk its prey, lying in wait beside forest paths or along the banks of rivers.

If the tiger did not have its characteristic pattern of stripes, it would be much more difficult for it to remain hidden when it is stalking or lying in wait for its prey. The strength of the stripe pattern varies in different parts of the tiger's geographical range. The stripes are strongest and darkest in the Bengal tiger, which lives in the dense jungle of India. The coat is paler and the stripes are fewer in the Amur tiger, which lives in the more open coniferous and birch woodlands of Siberia.

If tigers were not striped, they would probably soon die of starvation because they could not catch enough prey. The characteristic stripe pattern of their coat is passed on genetically from one generation of tigers to the next. Colour variations such as pure white and pure black tigers occur very rarely, but do not survive long in the wild.