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The tiger's closest living relatives were previously thought to be the Panthera species lion, leopard and jaguar. Results of genetic analysis indicate that about 2. 88 million years ago, the tiger and the snow leopard lineages diverged from the other Panthera species, and that both may be more closely related to each other than to the lion, leopard and jaguar. Results of a phylogeographic study indicate that all living tigers had a common ancestor 72,000–108,000 years ago. P. t. palaeosinensis from the Early Pleistocene of northern China is the most primitive known tiger to date. Fossil remains of Panthera zdanskyi were excavated in Gansu province of northwestern China. This species lived at the beginning of the Pleistocene about two million years ago, and is considered to be a sister taxon of the modern tiger. It was about the size of a jaguar and probably had a different coat pattern. Despite being considered more "primitive", it was functionally and possibly also ecologically similar to the modern tiger. Northwestern China is thought to be the origin of the tiger lineage. Tigers grew in size, possibly in response to adaptive radiations of prey species like deer and bovids, which may have occurred in Southeast Asia during the early Pleistocene.

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