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LONDON - The dog might be man's best friend, but the world's favourite animal is the tiger, says an international survey.

The great Asian cat, threatened with extinction in much of its range, beat the dog by a whisker in a poll of more than 50,000 people in 73 countries carried out by the cable and satellite TV channel Animal Planet in September and October.

The dolphin was third choice in the survey, which asked people to rank 10 animals in order of preference on a shortlist. The voting followed a series of documentaries, each featuring one of the shortlisted creatures.

After the winning three came the horse, the lion, the snake, the elephant, the chimpanzee, the orang-utan and the whale.

Asked to explain the overwhelming attraction of Panthera tigris, Dr Candy d'Sa, an animal behaviourist, said: "We can relate to the tiger, as it is fierce and commanding on the outside, but noble and discerning on the inside. In contrast, the dog is a loyal and respectful creature and brings out the lighter, more communicative side of human nature.

"The large number of votes that the dolphin received shows that we as humans appreciate grace, beauty and vivacity."

A total of 52,755 viewers around the world took part in the poll, which saw the tiger finish with 10,902 votes, only 17 more than the dog.

The dolphin swam into third place with 7064 votes.

Though the dog failed to make it to the top of the global chart, it did bound into first place in South Africa, Poland, Romania and Southeast Asia.