Juka and Shanti are Bengal tigers who live at the Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary.
The Bengal tiger Panthera tigris tigris is a tiger subspecies native to the Indian subcontinent that in 2010 has been classified as endangered by IUCN. The total population is estimated at fewer than 2,500 individuals with a decreasing trend, and none of the Tiger Conservation Landscapes within the Bengal tiger's range is large enough to support an effective population size of 250 adult individuals.
Panthera tigris is also the national animal of India.
The Bengal tiger's coat is yellow to light orange, with stripes ranging from dark brown to black; the belly and the interior parts of the limbs is white, and the tail is white with black rings.
Male Bengal tigers had a total length, including the tail, from 270 to 310 cm (110 to 120 in), while females range from 240 to 265 cm (94 to 104 in). Tails are 85 to 110 cm (33 to 43 in) long, and height at the shoulders is 90 to 110 cm (35 to 43 in). The head and body length of three males captured in Nagarahole National Park ranged from 189 to 204 cm (74 to 80 in), with a tail length of 100 to 107 cm (39 to 42 in), while a single female measured 161 cm (63 in), with a tail length of 87 cm (34 in). The average weight of males is 221.2 kg (488 lb), while that of females is 139.7 kg (308 lb).
Distribution and habitat
In the Indian subcontinent, tigers inhabit tropical moist evergreen forests, tropical dry forests, tropical and subtropical moist deciduous forests, mangroves, subtropical and temperate upland forests, and alluvial grasslands. Latter tiger habitat once covered a huge swath of grassland and riverine and moist semi-deciduous forests along the major river system of the Gangetic and Brahmaputra plains, but has now been largely converted to agriculture or severely degraded. Today, the best examples of this habitat type are limitated to a few blocks at the base of the outer foothills of the Himalayas including the Tiger Conservation Units (TCUs) Rajaji-Corbett, Bardia-Banke, and the transboundary TCUs Chitwan-Parsa-Valmiki, Dudhwa-Kailali and Sukla Phanta-Kishanpur.
Ecology and behaviour
The basic social unit of the tiger is the elemental one of mother and offspring. Adult animals congregate only on an ad hoc and transitory basis when special conditions permit, such as plentiful supply of food. Otherwise they lead solitary lives, hunting individually for the dispersed forest and tall grassland animals, upon which they prey. They establish and maintain home ranges. Resident adults of either sex tend to confine their movements to a definite area of habitat within which they satisfy their needs, and in the case of tigresses, those of their growing cubs.
Hunting and diet
Tigers are obligate carnivores. They prefer hunting large ungulates such as chital, sambar, gaur, and to a lesser extent also barasingha, water buffalo, nilgai, serow and takin. Among the medium-sized prey species they frequently kill wild boar, and occasionally hog deer, muntjac and Gray langur. Small prey species such as porcupines, hares and peafowl form a very small part in their diet. Due to the encroachment of humans into their habitat, they also prey on domestic livestock.
Reproduction and lifecycle
The tiger in India has no definite mating and birth seasons. Most young are born in December and April. Young have also been found in March, May, October and November. In the 1960s, certain aspects of tiger behaviour at Kanha National Park indicated that the peak of sexual activity was from November to about February, with some mating probably occurring throughout the year.
Males reach maturity at 4–5 years of age, and females at 3–4 years. A tigress comes into heat at intervals of about 3–9 weeks, and is receptive for 3–6 days. After a gestation period of 104–106 days, 1–4 cubs are born in a shelter situated in tall grass, thick bush or in caves. Newborn cubs weigh 780 to 1,600 g (1.7 to 3.5 lb) and they have a thick wooly fur that is shed after 3.5–5 months. Their eyes and ears are closed. Their milk teeth start to erupt at about 2–3 weeks after birth, and are slowly replaced by permanent dentition from 8.5–9.5 weeks of age onwards. They suckle for 3–6 months, and begin to eat small amounts of solid food at about 2 months of age. At this time, they follow their mother on her hunting expeditions and begin to take part in hunting at 5–6 months of age. At the age of 2–3 years, they slowly start to separate from the family group and become transient — looking out for an area, where they can establish their own territory. Young males move further away from their mother's territory than young females. Once the family group has split, the mother comes into heat again.
Over the past century tiger numbers have fallen dramatically, with a decreasing population trend. None of the Tiger Conservation Landscapes within the Bengal tiger range is large enough to support an effective population size of 250 individuals. Habitat losses and the extremely large-scale incidences of poaching are serious threats to the species' survival.
The most significant immediate threat to the existence of wild tiger populations is the illegal trade in poached skins and body parts between India, Nepal and China. The governments of these countries have failed to implement adequate enforcement response, and wildlife crime remained a low priority in terms of political commitment and investment for years. There are well-organised gangs of professional poachers, who move from place to place and set up camp in vulnerable areas. Skins are rough-cured in the field and handed over to dealers, who send them for further treatment to Indian tanning centres. Buyers choose the skins from dealers or tanneries and smuggle them through a complex interlinking network to markets outside India, mainly in China. Other factors contributing to their loss are urbanization and revenge killing. Farmers blame tigers for killing cattle and shoot them. Their skins and body parts may however become a part of the illegal trade.
The illicit demand for bones and body parts from wild tigers for use in traditional Chinese medicine is the reason for the unrelenting poaching pressure on tigers on the Indian subcontinent. For at least a thousand years, tiger bones have been an ingredient in traditional medicines that are prescribed as a muscle strengthener and treatment for rheumatism and body pain.
Between 1994 and 2009, the Wildlife Protection Society of India has documented 893 cases of tigers killed in India, which is just a fraction of the actual poaching and trade in tiger parts during those years.
In 2006, India's Sariska Tiger Reserve lost all of its 26 tigers, mostly to poaching. In 2007, police in Allahabad raided a meeting of suspected poachers, traders and couriers. One of the arrested persons was the biggest buyer of tiger parts in India who used to sell them off to the Chinese traditional medicinal market, using women from a nomadic tribe as couriers. In 2009, none of the 24 tigers residing in the Panna Tiger Reserve were left due to excessive poaching. In November 2011, two tigers were found dead in Maharashtra: a male tiger was trapped and killed in a wire snare; a tigress died of electrocution after chewing at an electric cable supplying power to a water pump; another tigress was found dead in Kanha Tiger Reserve landscape — poisoning is suspected to be the cause of her death.
In 1972, Project Tiger was launched aiming at ensuring a viable population of tigers in the country and preserving areas of biological importance as a natural heritage for the people. The project's task force visualized these tiger reserves as breeding nuclei, from which surplus animals would emigrate to adjacent forests. The selection of areas for the reserves represented as close as possible the diversity of ecosystems across the tiger's distribution in the country. Funds and commitment were mustered to support the intensive program of habitat protection and rehabilitation under the project. By the late 1980s, the initial nine reserves covering an area of 9,115 square kilometres (3,519 sq mi) had been increased to 15 reserves covering an area of 24,700 square kilometres (9,500 sq mi). More than 1100 tigers were estimated to inhabit the reserves by 1984.
Through this initiative the population decline was reversed initially, but has resumed in recent years; India's tiger population decreased from 3,642 in the 1990s to just over 1,400 from 2002 to 2008.
The Indian Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 enables government agencies to take strict measures so as to ensure the conservation of the Bengal tigers. The Wildlife Institute of India estimates showed that tiger numbers had fallen in Madhya Pradesh by 61%, Maharashtra by 57%, and Rajasthan by 40%. The government's first tiger census, conducted under the Project Tiger initiative begun in 1973, counted 1,827 tigers in the country that year. Using that methodology, the government observed a steady population increase, reaching 3,700 tigers in 2002. However, the use of more reliable and independent censusing technology (including camera traps) for the 2007–2008 all-India census has shown that the numbers were in fact less than half than originally claimed by the Forest Department.
Following the revelation that only 1,411 Bengal tigers exist in the wild in India, down from 3,600 in 2003, the Indian government has decided to set up eight new tiger reserves. Because of dwindling tiger numbers, the Indian government has pledged US3 million to further fund the Project Tiger initiative, set-up a Tiger Protection Force to combat poachers, and fund the relocation of up to 200,000 villagers to minimize human-tiger interaction.
Did you know?
The Bengal tiger is the national animal of Bangladesh and India.