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Six Kinds of Tigers, For Now

According to a sequencing study, there are six subspecies of tigers, one of which only lives in captivity, the New York Times reports. It notes that the number of tiger subspecies has been unclear, with some scientists arguing for two and others claiming there were more.

This, Peking University's Shu-Jin Luo says in a statement, has held conservation efforts back. "The lack of consensus over the number of tiger subspecies has partially hindered the global effort to recover the species from the brink of extinction, as both captive breeding and landscape intervention of wild populations increasingly requires an explicit delineation of the conservation management units," she says.

As they reported yesterday in Current Biology, she and her colleagues conducted phylogenomic and other analyses of 32 representative tigers to find six monophyletic clades. They further noted low inter-subspecies gene flow and dated the most common ancestor of all Panthera tigris to about 112,600 years ago.

These six subspecies include the Bengal Amur, South China, Sumatran, Indochinese and Malayan tigers, the Times notes. Whether all the tiger subspecies can be conserved isn't clear, the Wildlife Conservation Society's Ullas Karanth tells the Times, as some have quite small numbers. The South China tiger is only found in captivity, it adds.