| The Indian Tiger - Quick Facts
Scientific Name: Panthera Tigris
Estimated Remaining Population in the world: < 3,000
Size and Physical Characteristics: The tiger (Panthera tigris)
is the largest among all the living wild cats of the family Felidae. It
has an elongated body, short neck, and compact head with a relatively
short muzzle. The legs are stout and the paws are armed with retractile
claws. The total body length of an adult male tiger is between 275-290
cm and that of an adult female is 250-260 cm. The adult male tiger
weighs 180-260 kg whereas the adult female weighs 100-160 kg.
Tigers have a reddish-brown to rust-brown coat with black stripes and a
white underbelly. Variations in coat colouration occur among
individuals. White and black tigers are caused by a recessive gene.
Habitat and Distribution: In India, the tiger is
found practically throughout the country, from the Himalayas to Cape
Comorin, except in Punjab, Kutch and the deserts of Rajasthan. In the
northeast, its range extends into Burma. Tigers occupy a variety of
habitats including tropical evergreen forests, deciduous forests,
mangrove swamps, thorn forests and grass jungles.
Behavioural Characteristics: Tigers are usually
solitary, except for females with cubs. They are territorial and males
have discrete territories overlapping those of several females. Male
territories are mate oriented while those of females are more resource
oriented. Tigers use scent (spraying urine on the trees or other
vegetation or deposited on a scrape), scratch (marking on tree trunks
with claws) and scrape marks on the ground to maintain contact and
advertise their presence to others.
Males associate with females for breeding and have been observed with
females and cubs when feeding and resting. Although tigers mate and
produce cubs throughout the year in India, peak breeding activity is in
winter and early summer. During breeding, which lasts about 20 to 30
days, males and females communicate with each other with loud and
distinct calls that travel great distances. About 8 different kinds
vocalizations have been documented in tigers from the wild.
The gestation period is about three months (90 days). The litter size
may vary between 1-6 cubs, but 2-3 cubs are most common. At birth, the
tiger cub weighs between 800 - 1500 grams and measures 31 - 40 cm in
length. Cubs stay with their mother and siblings until about the age of
two when they move on to establish their own territories. During these
two years, cubs learn hunting techniques from their mother.
Tigers are well adapted to stalking prey rather than running it down.
Tigers primarily hunt at night, between dawn and dusk and usually rest
during daytime. On an average, tigers and tigresses without cubs kill
once in eight days, whereas a tigress with cubs makes kill almost once
every five days. However, the rate of kills depends on the number of
successful attempts. The prey is killed mostly by a fatal throat bite
causing suffocation, strangulation or severance of blood vessels.
Sometimes nose bites are applied to suffocate the animal, when an
effective throat bite is not an easy task, mainly in case of larger
prey. Small prey is killed by a nape bite resulting in broken neck
vertebrae or dislocation of head from vertebral column.
Diet: Tigers are meat eaters. Their diet
includes chital, sambar, gaur, barasingha, hog deer, barking deer,
nilgai, pigs and cattle. Apart from large prey, tigers are also known
to consume birds like peafowl and large rodents like porcupines. They
are even known to attack elephants and rhino calves. Tigers in the
Sundarbans are known to feed on fish and crabs.
Threats: The tiger population in India is officially
estimated to be between 1,571 - 1,875. Many of the tiger populations across the
nation, particularly those outside protected reserves, face a variety
of threats, including habitat fragmentation, encroachment, and poaching
and developmental projects. These problems are directly or indirectly
linked to anthropogenic factors.
Decades of scientific research on tigers and their prey have
provided us with a set of guidelines to develop and design protected
areas to help the species survive. However, these reserves protect only
a fraction of tiger habitat, and most are under severe human pressure.
In the last few years, tiger poaching has increased dramatically,
fueled by illegal trade in tiger body parts.
Large development projects, such as mining, hydroelectric dams and
construction of highways are also taking their toll on the tiger's
habitat. In the past few years, thousands of square kilometers of
forestland have been diverted and destroyed to facilitate such
projects. Though mostly outside the protected network, the loss of this
vital habitat will have serious repercussions on tiger conservation in
WPSI’s Wildlife Crime Database shows 95 tigers are known to
have been killed in 1994, 89 tigers were killed in 1997, 36 tigers were
killed in 1998, 72 tigers were killed in 2001 and 35 tigers were killed
in 2003. These figures, however, are incomplete and represent only a
fraction of the actual poaching activity in India.
History: One of the earliest portrayals of the tiger
in India is found in the Harappan seals from the Indus valley culture,
dating back to 2500 BC, and depicting an intricate association between
people and tigers. The rock paintings of Warli tribe, which date back
to around 3000 BC, also feature the tiger.
It is believed that tigers evolved in northern China and Far East
Asia approximately two million years ago. They then migrated through
woodlands and along river systems into southwest Asia. In the south and
southeast directions, tigers moved through continental southeast Asia,
crossing into the Indonesian islands before they separated from
mainland, and finally reached India.
During their evolutionary history, tigers split into eight
subspecies. All the subspecies were alive until 1940. However, during
the next three decades, three subspecies became extinct.
The five surviving subspecies are:
1. Bengal Tiger - Panthera tigris tigris
2. Siberian (Amurian) Tiger - Panthera tigris altaica
3. Sumatran Tiger - Panthera tigris sumatrae
4. Indo-Chinese Tiger - Panthera tigris corbetti
5. South China Tiger - Panthera tigris amoyensis
The three extinct subspecies are:
1. Javan Tiger - Panthera tigris sondaica - extinct since early 1980’s
2. Bali Tiger - Panthera tigris balica - extinct since the 1940’s
3. Caspian Tiger - Panthera tigris virgata - extinct since the early 1970’s
Project Tiger was launched in India in 1973, with the goal of saving
the tiger and its habitat in India. With an initial list of 9 Tiger
Reserves, this Project went on to cover 28 Tiger Reserves across the
country, incorporating an area of 37,761 sq. km. Though this Project
tackled various issues over the past 20 years, it had not been able to
keep pace with the rapid changes that have changed the tiger landscape
and increased human pressures. In 2006, it was replaced by the National
Tiger Conservation Authority.
Despite all these problems, India still holds the best chance for
saving the tiger in the wild. Tigers occur in 18 States within the
Republic of India, with 10 States reportedly having populations in
excess of 100 tigers. There are still areas with relatively large tiger
populations and extensive tracts of protected habitat.
We need to make a concerted effort to combat poaching and habitat loss,
if this magnificent animal is to survive into the future.