The reader comes to understand in Life of Pi that Richard Parker, the Bengal tiger which survives life at sea with Pi is "so named because of a clerical error." (Ch 48) The significance of the name itself creates conflict as the hunted becomes the hunter. As Pi's father was transporting zoo animals when the tragedy occurred, it is conceivable that there would be animals in the story.
The name Richard Parker was chosen by Yann Martel after he learned of The Mignonette which sank in 1884. The cabin boy was unfortunately the victim of cannibalism by the other survivors. After surviving the incident, the captain of the Mignonette was tried for murder - of Richard Parker, the cabin boy - setting a precedent in the British legal system. Martel also reveals other Richard Parkers from his research. There's Edgar Allen Poe's Richard Parker, created long before the sinking of the ship but with surprising similarities to the "real" boy. There's also another Richard Parker from another doomed ship from 1846. All these boys are victims and Richard Parker in Life of Pi is also potentially a victim, according to Martel.
Whether Richard Parker is a figment of Pi's imagination or a real tiger, he helps Pi survive his 227 days at sea. Pi's own name created conflict to the point that he only goes by the name Pi, not Piscine, which he goes to great lengths to explain. By using a person's name, Pi can give Richard Parker human qualities, despite his initial fear of him, easing the solitude that haunts him. "It is true that those we meet can change us, sometimes so profoundly that we are not the same afterwards, even unto our names" (ch 5)