Head and Skin of an Antique Taxidermy Tiger from the former Dutch East Indies

( most likely a Sumatran Tiger Panthera Tigris Sumatrae)

 - Introduction -

- When, where and by whom  the Tiger was killed is unknown. The taxidermy was purchased in the late seventies at an auction in a locale of Limburg, a province in the Netherlands. I was 12 or 13 at the time and very interested in Big Cats, especially tigers and cheetah's. My parents noticed the Tiger while attending a review of the items to be auctioned.  I still remember that moment as I was very intense on getting the Tiger skin and my dad told me that he had a bid limit. I was at the edge of my seat worried I may had to go home empty-handed! However, my fear was unfounded as nobody else seemed interested. The auctioneer even joked that it may make a nice coat! The taxidermy was purchased for Dfl 550,- (about USD 275), even back then, a steal! At the time of the purchase it was obvious that it was an antique taxidermy, albeit in very good state and very well done by the taxidermist. A beautiful skin with its head mounted, almost life-like. It must have been intended and used as a floor rug. The skin color has faded to a more pale yellow, probably due to long exposure to sunlight. Also there is some minor evidence of dogs chewing on some of its legs. The only disappointment I had back then was that it was quite small. I believe the length from nose to tail is about 240cm. I was expecting 3m to 3.5m. 

- - As mentioned the Tiger measures about 240cm ( 7ft 10in ) head to tail. The color has faded over time to a pale yellow, but one can still see that originally it must have been much darker, with a silky gloss. The stripes are very numerous and many form loops. Also clearly visible are some stripes that are really spots (like a cheetah). The hairs are very short. The belly is white. Gender is unknown. Judging the size of the teeth and the scars on the nose and skin it would appear that is that of an adult. The paws still contain some claws. The head is very impressive albeit relatively small, but very well done. The taxidermist must have been a master of his trade. It is much better than the more modern head mounts that look more like plastic or other more antique taxidermies that sometimes do not even look like a tiger's head. The head mount appears to contain the skull as the head and nose look very realistic and all teeth appear original. From the front the head seems round and show the menacing teeth of the Tiger. All four Carnassials are present, with the bottom left one broken. I am not sure whether this was already broken when the tiger was shot or if it was broken as result of damage when used as a floor rug. I do know that this was already present at the time when I became the proud owner of it. All other teeth appear to be present. It looks like there is some chewing damage at the ears... Some long whiskers are still present on the right side. There is no evidence of a large mane or beard, the hair is rather short.

Below are the Dimensions

Taxidermy Dimensions  
Length Nose tip to Tail tip (incl. curves) 245cm
Length Nose tip to Tail tip (Between pegs) 225cm
Tail length 70cm
Length excl. tail 175 / 155 cm
Width front paw to paw 163 cm
Width rear paw to paw 165 cm
Width middle 95 cm
Length Nose tip to plane of back of Ears 29cm
Length of neck (back of ears to start hide) 20cm
Length of back of skull to tail tip 195 cm
Length ears 8 cm
Width between start ears 18cm
Width between inner side eyes 7 cm
Width between outer side eyes 16 cm
Width between middle eyes 11.5 cm
Length nosetip to base skull 10 cm
Width nose top 4.5 cm
Distance between root top carnassial and middle eye 12 - 12.5 cm
Distance between root bottom carnassial and plane middle eye 12.5 cm
Width top Carnassials (measured from middle of teeth) 7.5 cm
Width bottom Carnassials (measured from middle of teeth) 5.5 cm
Circumference horizontal of skull 58 cm
Circumference vertical of skull (at ears) 66 cm


- Images Taxidermy-

> Below are some pictures made in february 2006 and may 2009  (click the image for full size):

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 - The Tiger and my son, at the time he just turned five. Great way to judge the (very small) size of the tiger.

 - The Tiger and my mother, again a good way to judge the size...

Overview  - A headshot.  - Head and skin

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 - Great shot. Note the narrow nose and the placement of the eyes.   - Rear top  - Rear top  - Frontal. Large Teeth. The bottom left tooth is broken, not sure whether this was when the Tiger was shot.  - Right side Headshot

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 - Right Side  - Right Side Front  - front top  - front 

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U-shape pattern Hind Quarters and base tail  - Top   - Top  - Left side Headshot (no flash)
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Front overview Front overview Front overview Head and neck Head and neck

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- Left front side Headshot (no flash)  -  Left Side  -  Left Side - Frontal (no flash) Right
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Left Left Right front


- My Research - 

 - I have tried and find out more about this Tiger as time went by. To obtain an objective classification I contacted the Natuur Historisch Museum in Leiden in the Netherlands and showed them the taxidermy. The assessor must not have been an expert as when I left all he could state is that it was indeed "a tiger". Not much help there, I could have saved myself a 6 hour trip... The visit proved to be well worth it as he did show me a skin (the only specimen at the museum) of a very rare now extinct Bali Tiger.

 - Not much the wiser on the classification of my taxidermy, I set a goal to identify it myself and find the proper scientific name of subspecies of Tiger. This has proven difficult over the years and I was only able to make some educated assumptions. Not much is known on the Taxidermy, like its origins, taxidermist, previous owners and where they obtained it etc... One can however compare the physical characteristics with what is scientifically described about the 8 or 9 tiger subspecies, as well as make some assumptions on the age based on physical appearance at time of auction. The size and stripe pattern proved very helpful in at least narrowing the candidates.

- There are 8  (9 when counting the Malayan tiger as a seperate subspecies and not as indo-Chinese). These are

1. Siberian Tiger (Panthera Tigris Altaica)  2. South Chinese Tiger (Panthera Tigris Amoyensis)  3. Caspian Tiger (Panthera Tigris Virgata) 4. Bengal Tiger (Panthera Tigris Tigris) 5. Indo-Chinese Tiger (Panthera Tigris Corbetti) 6. Malayan Tiger (Panthera Tigris Jacksoni **) and the island species 7. Sumatran Tiger (Panthera Tigris Sumatrae) 8. Javan Tiger (Panthera Tigris Sondaica)  and 9. Bali Tiger (Panthera Tigris Balica ***).

**  Note: Only recently has the Malayan Tiger been classified as a separate subspecies differing from the Indo-Chinese Tiger. 
***Note: Also recently I found a scientific paper, describing the Bali Tiger as being a separate subspecies of  Javan Tiger, giving it a new sceintific name (Panthera Tigris Sondaica Balica).

- I started a process of elimination. 
My taxidermy is definitely not a Siberian Tiger (Large 3.5 - 4m, dense long fur), Caspian Tiger (Large 3.3m, dense fur, very distinct stripes), Chinese Tiger ( 3plus m, few large stripes), the Royal or Bengal tiger (large 3-3.5m, different stripe pattern and head), same for the Indo-chinese and Malayan Tiger their stripe pattern does not match. That left the most likely candidates, the three island or Sunda species, the Sumatran, Javan or Bali Tiger. 

 - The taxidermy must have originated from the former Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. Not surprisingly it would have turned up in the Netherlands, most likely after WWII when many Dutch emigrated back to Holland after hostilities started in the Dutch East Indies and Indonesia gained independence from Holland. The Taxidermy definitely is an Antique and must have already been shot prior to WWII . Japan occupied the islands from 1942 to 1945. All Dutch were interned during that time. So much for dating the specimen. I can only assume it was shot prior to 1942 the start of the Occupation of the Dutch East Indies.

 - It also meant that the task of identifying this specimen was becoming very hard. The island species all lived in what is now Indonesia. 

> The Sumatran tiger lives not surprisingly on the island of Sumatra. They were once numerous and populated the entire island. At the end of 2008 their numbers have dwindled to about 400 or so in the wild scattered over remote parts of the island. Many of the remaining tigers live in the Gunung Leuser reserve in North Sumatra near Lake Toba. which I visited in 1992. 

Physical Description (source: www.online-tiger.de)

 - Size: Male tigers have an average length between pegs (shortest linear distance or aerial length of nose tip to tail tip) of about 240 - 250 cm and weigh on average 130kg. But can get larger. For tigresses this is 215 - 230 cm and 90 kg. Shoulder height is about 77cm

 - Fur: A deep dark reddish fur with short hair, less white areas than mainland tigers. Sumatrans oftentimes have a distinctive mane caused by long dense neck hair and their characteristic long beard. Longer hair on bottom belly. Stripes are thick, dark and relatively long and appear unified. Looping of stripes occurs often. Rare are stripes that end in spots or split in smaller thinner stripes. Some transverse striping on forequarters, indicative of island species. "U"-pattern on base of tail comprised of two or three smaller irregular striping. There are 9 or 10 thinner tail rings often doubled.

 - Skull: Compared to the other two island tigers, the Sumatran skull is clearly different. The nasals are much shorter and broad. The back of the skull resembles the mainland tigers.

There are many tigers in zoos and images of zoo and wild tigers are plentiful on the Internet. I am easily able to compare the Taxidermy to the Sumatran Tiger.

BM-Sumatran_1.jpg (42182 bytes) BM-Sumatran_2.jpg (37372 bytes) BM-Sumatran_3.jpg (55583 bytes) harapan_sumatran_tiger.jpg (287116 bytes)
Panthera_tigris_sumatrae__close-up.jpg (1164079 bytes) sumatran_tiger.jpg (108150 bytes) Sumatratiger-005.jpg (164934 bytes) sumatran-tiger-ver-2.jpg (521247 bytes)
tigris_sumatra.jpg (188588 bytes) s-tiger_img01-l.jpg (94534 bytes) tigerleuser.jpg (14918 bytes)
smatran tiger.jpg (205958 bytes) Sumatra taxidermy_1.jpg (66619 bytes) Sumatra taxidermy_2.jpg (13870 bytes)  


> The Javan Tiger was once numerous on the island of Java, the most populous and I might add beautiful island of Indonesia. During the 1920's and 30's they became rare, and by the 1950's only a few dozen were believed to have survived, some living in the Ujung Kulon reserve on West Java. Their numbers dwindled even further and in the seventies only a dozen or so survived in Meru Betiri a newly formed reserve on East Java. The species is officially considered to become extinct during the 1980's, but some unconfirmed sightings by locals persist to this day, but these may have been mistaken for the Javan Leopard (Panthera Pardus Melas). The leopard too has become rare on Java but still lives in the wild. I actually was fortunate to witness a Javan Leopard that was captured and held on a large plantation of Kaliklatak (East-Java on the slopes of Mount Merapi) during my vacation there in 1989. See pic below (click to enlarge).

Javan Leopard - Kaliklatak_july_1989.jpg (788372 bytes)

Physical Description (source: www.online-tiger.de)

 - Size: Male tigers have an average length between pegs (shortest linear distance or aerial length of nose tip to tail tip) of about 230 - 250 cm and weigh on average 135kg. But can get larger. For tigresses this is 210 - 225 cm and 100 kg. Shoulder height is about 68cm

 - Fur: A deep dark reddish fur with short hair, less white areas than mainland tigers. Stripes are thin and more numerous than Sumatra. Looping of stripes is rare. Frequently stripes end in smaller ones or spots. Some transverse striping on forequarters, indicative of island species. Clear longer "U"-pattern on base of tail followed by  7 to 11 thinner tail rings often doubled. Java also tends to develop a mane but not as distinct as Sumatra.

 - Skull: Clearly differs from all other tigers except Bali, especially different in occipital region. Relatively long, thin and pointy nasals. Head looks small compared to size of tiger.

Trying to find images of the Javan Tiger on the Internet proved difficult. Only few confirmed Java Tiger Images exist, including only one black and white photo of one in the wild, believed to have been taken in the 1930's. Some old images of living tigers from zoos are available but not of high quality. No tigers are believed to have survived in zoos. There are some drawings of the tiger but these are obviously unreliable as a benchmark. There are a few pictures of skins and taxidermies, most detailed and useful the one from the skin of a specimen at the British Museum of Natural History.

> And here are some pictures I found on the web of the Javan Tiger (Panthera Tigris Sondaica) I found on the web.

Panthera_tigris_sondaica_02.jpg (516485 bytes) Harmau Jawa.jpg (53566 bytes) Java tiger.jpg (109613 bytes) P.t. Sondaica.jpg (4354686 bytes)
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harimau-jawa.jpg (101647 bytes) tiger06.jpg (20900 bytes) tiger07.jpg (22273 bytes) Javan Tiger.jpg (66534 bytes)
tigrejava2-jpg.jpg (41506 bytes) java_tiger.jpg (17332 bytes) Tigre de Java.jpg (152752 bytes)  


> The Bali Tiger called the small island of Bali, east of Java,  its home. It was always densely populated by humans. The island is very small and it is surprising that it in fact had a population of distinct tigers. There could have never been many, a few hundred when they were common on the island. By the early 1900's they were rare, most lived on the western part of the island. The eastern part was cultivated. The last confirmed Bali Tiger shot was from 1937. They probably became extinct in the 1940's or early 1950's, although there are still some reported unofficial sightings. It is highly unlikely that this race has survived to today. I visited the island of Bali and it is cultivated everywhere. The only forested areas are on West Bali, where the Bali Barat reserve is, but it is tiny and very unlikely to sustain a larger tiger population necessary to survive.

Physical Description (source: www.online-tiger.de)

 - Size: Male tigers have an average length between pegs (shortest linear distance or aerial length of nose tip to tail tip) of about 220 - 225 cm and weigh on average 95kg. But can get larger 230 cm. For tigresses this is 190 - 200 cm and 75 kg. Shoulder height is about 60cm

 - Fur: Darkest of all tiger subspecies, more purer white areas than Sumatra or Java. Stripes are broader and often looped on flanks a legs. More clear striping on front legs. Very characteristic is the spotting of stripes and small spots and fine lines between stripes especially on the flanks and back legs.  Complex "U"-pattern on base made of two or three irregular long rings followed by 7 or 8 broader tail rings often doubled. Bali has the least tail rings. It is unknown whether the species tended to have a distinct mane. Based on the Pictures and the skin in the London museum it appears not. Larger white areas above the eyes and 3 to 5 transverse stripes on top of head are typical.

 - Skull: Clearly differs from all other tigers except Java, especially different in occipital region. Distinctly long, thin and pointy nasals. Head looks small compared to size of tiger.

If finding images of the Javan tiger proved hard, images of the Bali tiger proved even more illusive. I was unable to find any pictures of living tigers. The only three photos's of tigers were Trophy pictures after they had been shot by hunters and a drawing or two, which are meaningless for comparison. My best option was again a photo of the skin of a Bali tiger of a specimen at the British Museum of Natural History.

> And here are the few pictures of the Bali Tiger (Panthera Tigris Balica) I found on the web.

Bali Tiger shot 1911.jpg (57555 bytes) Panthera_tigris_balica,_old_male.jpg (769191 bytes) Bali Tiger Shot 1925.jpg (6083942 bytes)
BM-Bali_big.jpg (46432 bytes) Sumber Kima Tigress.jpg (1764533 bytes) Bali Tiger Leiden.jpg (2495590 bytes)
sondaica.jpg (86619 bytes) 2010081035_tigrebalica.jpg (34482 bytes)  


- Comparing the Taxidermy -

I started to compare the taxidermy with the characteristics of the Sumatran Tiger, as it seemed a likely candidate and they have always been more numerous. The size is comparable and it has a somewhat similar bold stripe pattern. 

Below is a comparison between the Taxidermy and two Sumatran specimen.

The Sumatran skins and the taxidermy have the somewhat thicker stripes in common, however the Sumatrans lack the more dense striping/spotting on the forelegs, which is more indicative of Bali. Note that the form of the head on the Sumatrans, the placement of the eyes differs, beard and mane or ruff ( very pronounced feature for the Sumatran subspecies) and broad and relatively short nose lacked on my specimen. Also note the more defined "U"-shape pattern at the base of the tale of the Taxidermy, Features shared with Javan / Bali. Note also the fewer number of broader ring stripes on the tail, indicative of the Bali type (Javans had relatively more and thinner rings. In addition the taxidermy has more cross stripes on the forelegs, also Bali features. The nose on the taxidermy is long and narrow, pointy, features of a Javan / Bali.p>

- The paper in question was  "A taxonomic revision of the tigers (Panthera tigris) of Southeast Asia" By J.H. MazaŽk and C.P. Groves. and published in 2006. The paper documents the scientific research including the Javan and Bali tiger, resulting in classifying the Bali tiger as a subspecies of the Javan tiger i.e. giving it the scientific name Panthera Tigris Sondaica Balica.. The Javan tiger retains its unique classification and the Sumatran tiger is closer to the mainland tigers... A breakthrough for me was the description of the Javan and Bali tiger's nose. Excerpt: "Javan tiger:  Cranially, the Javan tiger is completely separated from both the mainland (corbetti) and Sumatran tigers, with 100% accuracy. It is characterized particularly by an obviously narrow occipital plane, long and narrow nasal and relatively long carnassials (Hemmer1969, 1987; MazaŽk 1979)."  and the same paper on the Bali Tiger: " The Bali tiger strongly resembles the Javan, and it cannot be separated from the latter except on average..." and  "... Externally, the ground coloration and stripe pattern of Bali tiger differ somewhat, on average, from the Javan tiger (MazaŽk 1976, 1979; MazaŽk et al. 1978). The present evidence indicates that the Bali tiger should be classified as a subspecies of the Javan tiger, Panthera sondaica balica."

 - So in essence the Javan and Bali tiger are one subspecies sharing the same characteristics. My taxidermy's head shares the long pointy elongated and narrow nose, as well as the large almost oversized carnassials as described... Also the dense striping pattern and short haired skin as well as the U-shaped pattern on the tail resemble closely the Javan and Bali tiger specimen's from the British museum See below (Bali -Taxidermy - Javan):



Also in retrospect, Java and Bali were already densely populated prior to 1942 and both species of tigers were hunted before that date. 
The likelihood that it is in fact a specimen of the Bali tiger is small as these tigers were extremely rare, but cannot be excluded. Many plantations existed on both islands and most Dutch colonials lived on these islands and that both subspecies were hunted furthers the case that the Taxidermy is in fact a Javan or less likely a Bali tiger specimen. Also the Bali Tiger was a very small tiger, although some shared physical measurements are in line with the general dimensions of the Taxidermy (The Sumber Kima female specimen in Bogor was allegedly 246 cm long, it's tail 69 and head body 177 cm.(from: on a skin and skull of the Bali Tiger, and a list of preserved specimens of P.t. balica by Mazak-Groves and van Bree - 1977).  This may have been overstated however. The head-body may have only been 145cm based on the size of the skull of the specimen. Still, it would have had a length of 214cm. About average for a tigress.

Maybe future DNA testing can support my assertion here, but due to the small quantity of known specimens in the world this may prove impossible. Maybe all that is left are the educated assumptions on physical characteristics of the taxidermy and the assumed date based on visually judging the antique's age. 

Stripe pattern and Density methodology:

- I came across a scientific paper (by Andrew C Kitchener, Tiger distribution, Phenotypic variation and conservation issues) on the internet where he describes that tigers used to be classified based on a scorecard on 7 characteristics of their stripe pattern and number or density of their stripes. This method was used by the London Museum of Natural History. The scores of the taxidermy using the Museum's physical characteristics' benchmark:

Scorecard Coloration and striping pattern      
as used by British National Museum of Natural History  
Character no Score = 1 Score = 3 Taxidermy score Notes
1 U Stripe on tail no U stripe 1 Clear U pattern visible
2 Spots No spots 1 Clearly some stripes are spots and spots between stripes
3 Thick stripes Thin stripes 2 Not real thick but many thin
4 Stripes on forequarters Reduced striping forequarters 2 There are stripes and many spots on forequarters but not as many as back quarters
5 Loops on flanks No loops on flanks 1 Many loops visible, some double
6 Ground color dark Ground color light 2 Light sunlight faded skin reduced 3 by one as directed
  Total pattern score 9  
Note: Intermediate number may be assigned to Character numbers 3,4 and 6 if pelage assignments not clear. No. 6 was reduced by 1 due to prolonged exposure to daylight.
Note: based on scorecard the Taxidermy is close to the mean of Java/bali, sumatra and Indo-chinese/malayan (Note the small SD in Java/Bali. All 3 specimens sampled must have been very close in characteristic.  


Average number of stripes on flanks:


Indicative of Sunda subspecies
Table is from: Tiger distribution, Phenotypic variation and conservation issues by Andrew C Kitchener.
Calculating the difference between the species' mean and average number of stripes on taxidermy divided by species SD
The taxidermy has on average 34 stripes over the flanks
Scientific name Mean SD Taxidermy's variance to  mean species/ SD species
altaica 22 2.52 4.8
virgata 26.8 1.89 3.8
tigris 24 3.23 3.1
corbetti 26.4 2.54 3.0
sumatrae 27 5.94 1.2
sondaica/balica 30.5 4.34 0.8
The taxidermy clearly is closest to the Sunda species, within 1 SD of Java/Bali and within 2 SD of Sumatra
Table is from: Tiger distribution, Phenotypic variation and conservation issues by Andrew C Kitchener.

One can conclude from using the classification method that the Taxidermy definitely confirms that it is a Sunda species or one of the Island species, close to the sondaica/balica subspecies. 

Interestingly Kitchener argues in his paper that the classification method is not scientific and is unable to classify the subspecies based on physical appearance of the specimen. Also a classification based on skull characteristics (based on the size and shape of the occiput) needed more research and did not prove classification scientifically. In essence he throws all science of the current subspecies overboard and suggested instead only 2 or 3 races, The Mainland subspecies and Island (Java/Bali) subspecies, with the possibility of the Sumatran tiger to be either a mainland or hybrid island species and the possibility of a separate classification for the Caspian Tiger. In his eyes there is currently no scientific data that suggests that the current classification (9 subspecies) is correct. Also he mentions that the variation of physical characteristics within a subspecies can be greater than the variations between the subspecies. 

In other words: You can't tell a tiger by its stripes after all!

However, Kitcheners approach in my unscientific opinion seems to simplify the characteristics and does not seem  to take into account geographical locations. After all, the Tiger's range used to cover a vast range. Geographical considerations in classifications should be taken into account. The now extinct Caspian Tiger hardly resembles a Bengal Tiger nor South Chinese tiger and a Siberian Tiger is clearly different from a Indo-chinese and Malayan tiger.

Based on my research I conclude that the taxidermy is likely a Javan or a Bali tiger specimen killed before 1942 in what was then the Dutch East Indies.



> Here some images of other Tiger subspecies for comparison:

Siberian Tiger.jpg (71646 bytes) Panthera_tigris_tigris.jpg (152318 bytes) bengal-tiger-the.jpg (53965 bytes) IndoChinese_Tiger.jpg (3177952 bytes) indochinesetiger.jpg (91632 bytes)
Siberian Tiger (Altaica) Bengal Tiger (Tigris) Bengal Tiger (Tigris) Indo-Chinese Tiger (Corbetti) Malayan Tiger (Jacksoni)
Panthera_tigris_amoyensis.jpg (105435 bytes) amoyensis.jpg (106751 bytes) caspian.jpg (11168 bytes) Caspian_4.jpg (147441 bytes) Caspian_5.jpg (81852 bytes)
South Chinese Tiger (Amoyensis) South Chinese Tiger (Amoyensis) Caspian Tiger (Virgata) Caspian Tiger (Virgata) Caspian Tiger (Virgata)
Caspian_6.jpg (81379 bytes) Caspian (2).jpg (67152 bytes) Caspian_3.jpg (144453 bytes)    
Caspian Tiger (Virgata) Caspian Tiger (Virgata) Caspian Tiger (Virgata)