Just a Paper Tiger; Extinct: The Hyrcanian or Caspian Tiger Roamed Forests in the Caucasus, Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan

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Byline: Charles Legge

QUESTION What, exactly, is a Hyrcanian Tiger? FOLLOWING his election asLondon's Mayor, Boris Johnson demonstrated his classical education when, incriticising the Press, he said: 'I feel that there's a kind of pent-up rage inthe media, like some ravening Hyrcanian tiger deprived of its mortal prey.

But unlike the Press, the Hyrcanian tiger is unfortunately now extinct.

Hyrcania was an ancient kingdom in the area of of what is now Golestan,Mazandaran, Gilan and part of Turkmenistan, all south of the Caspian Sea.

The Hyrcanian tiger is better known as the Caspian Tiger, and its range wasonce much greater than the borders of Hyrcania. It could be found throughoutthe forests of Afghanistan, Turkey, Mongolia, Iran, Northern Iraq, Azerbaijan,Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the Central Asiatic region of Russia.

But despite this wide distribution, it lived in a limited environment,associated with riverine flora of trees, shrubs, and reeds and grasses calledtugai on watercourses, river basins and lakes.

The Caspian tiger was the third largest, after the Siberian and Bengal tigers.Its body was stocky and elongated, with strong legs, wide paws and unusuallylarge claws. Its ears were short and small, appearing to be without hair on thetips.

Around the cheeks, the Caspian tiger was generously furred and the rest of itscoat was long and thick.

In colour, it resembled the Bengal tiger with a yellow-gold shade over the backand flanks, while the sides of the body were lighter than the back and thestriping also varies from light to dark brown.

Its chest and abdomen were white with yellow stripes, while the facial area wasyellow with brown stripes on the forehead and white patches around the eyes.Its tail was yellow with yellowish white stripes.

Male Caspian tigers were very large, weighing 170kg to 240kg.

Females weighed 85-135 kg. Like all tigers, the Caspian tiger was fiercelyterritorial and widely feared by humans.

The Caspian tiger was always vulnerable to extinction because of the restrictednature of its distribution; riverine habitats were also intensively used byhumans. It succumbed to eradication following a land reclamation programme bythe Soviet government.

The Red Army was ordered to exterminate all tigers found around the CaspianSea, a project which was carried out very efficiently, and by 1959 the specieswas extinct.

Jancis Paal, London N13.

QUESTION Political columnists keep stating that the electoral system favoursLabour. How did this come about? THE electoral system favours

Labour in the sense that in the last few elections, Labour could win many moreseats than the Conservatives despite polling the same total number of votes.

This has been apparent since 1992, although in earlier elections there wassometimes a bias in the other direction. Labour therefore needs fewer votesthan the Conservatives to win a Commons majority. …