- General

Myths and Legends of the Tiger

Over the course of centuries, the tiger has become immortalised in various myths, stories, traditions and aspects of popular culture all over the world. Predatory big cats have fascinated humanity for centuries, and tigers are at the forefront of the trend, due to their unique appearance and the symbolic associations made with them since time immemorial. While a tiger safari can enable people to observe these animals in their natural habitat in the wild, the symbol of the tiger can be seen in many stories and legends across the world. Here are a few of the most interesting appearances of tigers, from ancient myths to the modern media.

Chinese ‘Kings’

Though many African myths and stories centre on the lion, in China, the tiger takes its place as foremost among the big cats, representing royalty, fearlessness, and wrath. A tiger safari may not quite let you see the wrath of a tiger up close, though – and that’s a good thing! In graphic depictions, the Chinese tiger often has a marking on its forehead, 王, which is the Chinese character for ‘king’, and echoes the distinctive stripes of the tiger. Many modern cartoon depictions of tigers in China and Korea are drawn with this mark on their forehead, as a nod to these mythical associations.

The Zodiac

The tiger takes its place amongst the 12 animals of the Zodiac, where it’s associations of pride, competitiveness, and abilities as a hunter are emphasised. In the era of Imperial China, a tiger was deemed to be the personification of war and warfare, and was often used as a symbol to represent the highest army general – a tradition that continues to this day, as it is also used to represent the defence secretary in the Chinese government. In various Chinese martial arts, the ‘tiger’ form is used as a metaphor for aggressive movements and stances, and one southern Chinese martial art, Hung Ga, is said to be based on the movements of tigers and cranes. Even outside of a traditional tiger safari, the animal can be seen in many places within Chinese culture.

Legends of the Tiger

There are many legends and tales concerning tigers different cultures. In Buddhism, the tiger is referred to as one of the Three Senseless Creatures (or animals ruled by a baser human emotion) where it symbolises rage and anger, along with the monkey which represents greed, and the deer which represents lovesickness. The Tungusic people considered the Siberian tiger as something close to a deity, and called it ‘Grandfather’, or ‘old man’. The widely-worshipped Hindu goddess, Durga, is a ten-armed warrior who rides a tigress known as Damon into battle. A ten-armed goddess riding a tiger would certainly be a strange sight to behold on a tiger safari, but unfortunately, not one you are likely to encounter in this day and age.


Akin to the werewolf legends found in Europe (where wolves were considered the most dangerous predators), weretigers are often found in Asian legends and stories – but again, not likely to be seen on a modern-day tiger safari. In India, weretigers are portrayed as dangerous sorcerers and menaces to livestock, who might become man-eaters at the drop of a hat. However, a variation on the legend in Indonesia portrays benevolent weretigers as guarding plantations from wild pigs.