The Bengal tiger is an endangered Indian subspecies called Panthera tigris tigris. According to the latest population survey by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, no more than 2,500 Bengal tigers exist globally.
India harbors most of them with an estimated population of 1,706 tigers in 2011 — up from roughly 1,411 tigers in 2006. The boost to the population and its density can be deceiving as the big cat’s habitats are shrinking.
Indian tigers are being killed as part of a lucrative trade in their bones for use in Oriental medicine, especially since the annihilation of the tiger in the Far East compelled traditional medicine manufactures to look for sources overseas. WPSI research says poaching for this reason started in northern India in the mid1980’s, and that tigers are now being killed for relatively small amounts of money by tribes who know the forests well.
Poaching is a punishable offence in India under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 for which violators can be jailed for up to three years. For offences committed inside the core area of a tiger reserve, there’s a mandatory prison term of three years, extendable to seven years and a fine of Rs. 50,000, extendable to Rs. 2 lakhs.
Since the demise of the south China tigers, experts figure there are only about 20 left in the wild now, India has been left with the largest tiger population in the world. The species very survival depends on how we take a lead.
This photo essay is more than just an attempt to outline the need for more widespread conservation of the big cat at the hands of not just a few wildlife enthusiasts but also by the sensitized population, especially the younger lot. It is a reminder, to make everyone see what they are missing.
Fact: Tigers are an endangered species. Wild tigers in Asia, their natural habitat, may soon disappear. Paraphrasing conservationist Marjorie Stoneman Douglas: Saving the tiger is a test. If we pass, we get to keep the planet.
Fact: Most tigers have more than 100 stripes, and no two tigers have identical stripes.
Fact: Tigers and jaguars, which are cats of the forest, are stockier and have shorter limbs made for climbing than the big cats of the wide-open savannas.
Fact: Tigers hunt by sight and hearing, not by smell. They attack from the rear or the side with a bite to the neck or back of the head.
Fact: A tiger may succeed in catching a meal in only one of 10 to 20 hunts.
Fact: A meal for a tiger may be as much as 50 to 70 pounds (22.7 to 31.8 kilograms), but tigers may often go a week without food.
Fact: Tigers, lions, leopards, and jaguars (genus Panthera) are the only four cats that can roar, but they can’t purr.
Fact: The roar of a tiger can be heard more than a mile away. Of the high-frequency and low-frequency sounds of a tiger’s roar, the low-frequency sounds (infrasounds) cannot be heard by humans.
Fact: Tiger cubs are born blind, weighing about two pounds, and nurse for six months.
Fact: A tiger walks on its toes! Tigers keep their claws sharp for hunting by pulling in their retractable claws into a protective sheath.
Lending a glimpse
Fact: Wild tigers typically avoid human contact. In the wild, the life expectancy of tigers is 15 years.
Fact: Tiger vision is six times better than a human at night.
Fact: It is estimated that 100,000 tigers roamed in the wilds of Asia at the beginning of the last century. There were as few as 5,000 to 7,000 wild tigers by the end of the 20th century.
Wild boars are a favorite meal of tigers. They also may eat domestic cattle. Even though tigers have been known to occasionally kill people, it is estimated that only three out of a thousand tigers have been man-eaters. But the reverse may not be quite true, looking at the alarming rate at which this royal beast is poached.
Taking liberty with a poster on conservation hanging across the table at my office, ‘Extinct is not only a word which means dead. It means gone and lost to the world forever.’ Take notice and act!
Areas tracked: Bandhavgarh National Park, Kanha National Park and Panna National Park for pictures incorporated.
Photo credits: Chandravijay Singh Hada, qualified naturalist and a wildlife enthusiast
Sources of factual information: Smithsonian National Zoological Park, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wikipedia, National Geographic, The Tiger Foundation, World Wildlife Fund, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.