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Subspecies Explained with Tigers  

The Term subspecies is sometimes completely misunderstood.  Saying that an animal is a member of a subspecies does not suggest that there is anything inferior about that animal.  Some people have referred to other groups of people as subspecies. This has been misunderstood as being a racist comment.

In the modern classification of Humans, all Humans alive today are members of the same subspecies: Homo sapiens sapiens.  In the past there has been another subspecies of Homosapiens: Homo sapiens neanderthal.  This does not suggest that the Neanderthals were inferior to us, just a bit different.
I have seen it stated that the in humans the terms "race" and "subspeices" mean the same.  This it totally incorrect.

Perhaps this concept of subspecies is best explained with an animal with several subspecies like the Tiger


At the beginning of the twentieth century there were 9 subspecies of Tiger in existence, although not all were recognised as separate at that time.

Siberian Tiger

This is perhaps the largest subspecies.  It is native to parts of Siberia and parts of China.  There are now about 500 left in the wild and it is considered to be critically endangered.

Caspian Tiger

The Caspian Tiger was native to places like Iran and Turkey.  It is extinct.  However, DNA analysis suggests that it was nearly identical to the Siberian Tiger, so it was not a separate subspecies, but just a different gepographic race.

Bengal Tiger

This Tiger rivals the mighty Siberian Tiger in size.  It is the most numerous subspecies, but even this Tiger’s continuing existence is seriously threatened by the rapidly increasing Human population.

Indochinese Tiger

This is the most widespread of all the Tigersubspecies.  It is possibly the one that the others stemmed from.  It has the greatest genetic diversity of any subspecies.

South China Tiger

This is the smallest of the exclusively mainland subspecies.  It is also the other Tiger that might be the one the others came from.

Malayan Tiger

This subspecies is closely related to the Indochinese Tiger.  It was only in 2004 that it was recognised as a separate subspecies.  It is a little smaller than the Indochinese Tiger.

Sumatran Tiger

This critically endangered Tiger is a little smaller than the Malayan Tiger.

Javan Tiger

This extinct subspecies was smaller again than the Sumatran Tiger.  The Human population pressure in the overcrowded island of Java reduced its habitat disastrously.

Balinese Tiger

This extinct subspecies was the smallest of all the Tigers alive at the start of last century. Its size was similar to a Puma or Mountain Lion.  Hunting (by Europeans) was partly responsible for its extinction.

So you can see that subspecies are simply groups within a species. There is no suggestion of inferiority or superiority.

Siberian Tiger at Philadelphia Zoo
Photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
 Caspian Tiger
Javan Tiger

Balinese Tiger