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Bengal Tigers in the Wild

Updated on October 22, 2014
A Royal Bengal Tiger in Delhi zoo
A Royal Bengal Tiger in Delhi zoo | Source

Bengal Tigers - Beautiful but Endangered

The Bengal Tiger or Royal Bengal Tiger was once found through a large area of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Tibet and other countries in Southeast Asia. Now its distribution through these areas is patchy as may be seen from the map below.

There were eight subspecies of tiger but only five remain as the other three became extinct during the last 100 years. These five subspecies, including the Bengal tiger, are endangered. Their habitats have shrunk as man's activities have encroached, they have been hunted for sport and for the use of body parts in traditional Chinese medicine.

What a tragedy if these beautiful animals were to disappear in the wild. Even if most of us will never see a wild Bengal tiger living a natural life, many of us take pleasure in knowing that they exist and will mourn their loss.

Basic Information

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Felidae

Genus species: Panthera tigris

Sub species: Panthera tigris tigris

Size: Male tiger can grow up to 3 m (approx 10 ft.), female to 2.7 m (approx 9 ft.). These figures include the tail which is about 90cm (approx 3 ft) long.

Weight: Male can be up to 225 kg (approx 500 pounds), female to 135 kg (approx 300 pounds); and is the largest member of the cat family.

Life span: On an average Bengal tigers survive live to about15 years in the wild; 16 to 18 years in captivaty.

Description: The Bengal tiger's coat colour is orange with narrow black, gray or brown stripes. The underside is white or off-white. Eye colour is amber. There is a rare variation - the white tiger which has a white coat with darker stripes and blue eyes.

White Bengal Tiger Cubs
White Bengal Tiger Cubs | Source

Bengal tigers and breeding

Female tigers can reproduce from the age of around three to four years while the male reaches sexual maturity at about four years of age. Although they may mate throughout the year, they usually do so between November and April.

Gestation takes around 103 days and the female has a litter of between two and five cubs which should weigh just over two pounds (approx one kilo). Like our pet cats, the cubs are born blind and totally depend on their mother.

They suckle for around six to eight weeks but depend on their mothers to hunt food for them until they are about 18 months old. By this age, they should be hunting for themselves.

Even when they are able to hunt on their own, the cubs remain with their mother until they are two to three years old. At this age, they leave to find their own territories and live the solitary life of a wild Bengal tiger.

Map showing tiger distribution at the end of 2013

Distribution of the Bengal Tiger in December 2013 shown in red.
Distribution of the Bengal Tiger in December 2013 shown in red. | Source
Hidden World of the Bengal Tiger
Hidden World of the Bengal Tiger

Watch a tigress rear her cubs in the wild over a period of two years. See her hunt to feed her young and protect them from harm.

 

Bengal Tigers - An Endangered Species

The numbers quoted for Bengal tigers now living in the wild are variable but it seems that most authorities say between 3000 and 5000. There is so much disagreement on these figures, though, that it's quite possible there could be as few as 2500 left.

Tigers need a large territory but, as can be seen from the map above, the tiger's habitat has shrunk dramatically since 1900. This is largely due to human activities taking over the tiger's traditional range. There is also a loss of habitat due to rises in sea level, particularly in the Ganges Delta, due to climate change. You can see more about this in the video below.

Tigers are solitary animals and they defend their territory aggressively. They scent mark it to warn rivals and they will fight to keep other tigers out.

They hunt at night and will travel miles to find their prey, usually deer, antelope, wild pigs and other medium to large sized mammals. If they can't find these, they will eat lizards, frogs, fish, birds or pretty much anything they can find.

Unlike many other cats, they don't climb trees but they are powerful swimmers and some include areas of river and swamps in their territory as shown in the video below. They are also fast and powerful runners.

Like other members of the cat family, tigers lie in wait, disguised by their stripes, and then pounce on their prey when it comes close enough. In fact, it uses similar tactics to our pet cats, just on a much larger scale.

Climate change impacts on the Bengal tiger

Famous Man-Eater

This was a tiger captured and kept in Calcutta Zoo after reputedly eating 200 people. Part of a stereoscopic image dating from 1903.
This was a tiger captured and kept in Calcutta Zoo after reputedly eating 200 people. Part of a stereoscopic image dating from 1903. | Source

Man-Eating Tigers

For most Bengal tigers, humans are not on the menu and avoid man wherever possible. The famous maneating tigers are usually sick or injured so can't hunt their traditional prey successfully. People are an easier target as they can't run so fast or effectively defend themselves.

Charles McDougal wrote a paper in 1987 called The Man-Eating Tiger in Geographical and Historic Perspective in which he says that in 1877 almost 800 were killed by tigers in British India (this included what we now call Pakistan and Bangladesh).

From 1902 until 1910 an average of 850 people were killed each year. In 1922 this figure almost double to 1,603. During the later 20th century, the number of killings by tigers decreased considerably, probably due to the diminishing population of wild tigers.

McDougal argues that it is a shortage of its normal prey that causes a tiger to attack humans. The other reason is usually a serious injury that prevents it hunting other animals.

One interesting point is that a tiger is unlikely to attack a person standing upright. In a later paper written by McDougal with John Seidensticker, it is suggested that a bipedal (two legged), upright stance does not conform with the tiger's internal model of a prey animal.* This is why people bending in rice paddies or rubber plantation workers bending to cut into the lower parts of rubber trees are often victims of a maneating tiger. They produce a silhouette that is closer to the tiger's image of prey.

*A standing person's head and neck are in the wrong place and most adult human beings are taller than many large prey species."

— (McDougal and Seidensticker from Tiger predatory behaviour, ecology and conservation. 1993)

Threats to tigers from poaching

When we think of tiger poaching, we probably think of tiger skins, maybe used for rugs or clothes. Tigers are killed for their skins as expected but there is also a trade in their body parts and bones for traditional Chinese medicine.

Leading traditional Chinese medicine practitioners agree that there is no need to use tiger parts in their products and that there are other substances that can be used instead without having a detrimental effect.

Watch this video and listen to the case made for ending the trade in any products from tigers, including skins, body parts and bones.

Warning

While there are some beautiful shots of live tigers, there are also extremely distressing clips of tigers being killed and close-ups of their bodies being cut up and parts removed.

Tiger on a rock
Tiger on a rock | Source

Project Tiger

Set up in 1973 under the auspices of the Indian Government, the Project Tiger mandate is to conserve a viable population of Bengal tigers.

Initially it set up nine tiger reserves containing a total of 268 tigers. Today there are 27 reserves containing 1498 tigers, according to Project Tiger. The reserves are managed by designating a core area within each one. All activities that could disturb or be detrimental to tigers are kept out of this area. Around the core, there is a buffer zone in which certain activities are allowed like some logging, grazing and what Project Tiger describes as 'collection of minor forest produce'.


Despite all these problems, India still holds the best chance for saving the tiger in the wild....There are still areas with relatively large tiger populations and extensive tracts of protected habitat."

— The Wildlife Protection Society of India
Swimming tiger in the Sariska Tiger Reserve
Swimming tiger in the Sariska Tiger Reserve | Source

Sariska Tiger Reserve

There have been allegations that Project Tiger has inflated the numbers of tigers found in the reserves. In the light of what happened in the Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan, this is not surprising.

It was designated as a wildlife reserve in 1955 and then a tiger reserve in 1978. Historically, it has been an area rich in wildlife with tigers, leopards, jackals and many others. It was once a royal hunting reserve and is the site of several archeological sites from the 9th and 10th centuries.

In 2004, rumours started that there were no tigers left in Sariska. Not only were no tigers seen but no traces like spoor, pugmarks (paw prints) or other signs could be found either.

In January 2005 the news that all the tigers had disappeared from the reserve hit the Indian newspapers leading to an 'emergency census'. So seriously was this news taken that the Central Bureau of Investigation (India's intelligence agency) investigated. They confirmed the terrible news that all the tigers had gone and that they had probably all been poached.

Now a handful of tigers have been introduced to the Sariska and villages within the area are being relocated outside to give the tigers a better chance of surviving and establishing themselves there.

This isn't just an Indian problem, though. If there was no demand for tiger skins and body parts, there would be no reason for poaching.

Prevailing conservation efforts are not geared towards, nor have they adequately addressed, the new threats with new protection strategies ie. better law enforcement, training and support."

— The Wildlife Protection Society of India

Sariska Tiger Extinction Scandal

Your views on Bengal tigers

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    • profile image

      Riana 2 years ago

      Thanks for the lovely cmoemnt. These charts will be available in my zoo literacy pack which I hope to have finished by the end of the week. In it will also be tree maps and bubble diagrams for 9 other animals as well as word wall words, word families and other literacy activities.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Bengal tigers are beautiful and strong. I love them. I want to prevent their extinction

      M Mottakin

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @Wednesday-Elf: Mottakin

      I like to play a role to prevent possible extinction of royal bengal tiger. I visited Sunderban the habitat of tigers. I love them

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 5 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      Bengal tigers are such beautiful creatures. The world would be a sad place without them. I'm glad you are bringing their possible extinction (and what we can do about it) to our attention.

    • WhiteTigerKungFu profile image

      WhiteTigerSchools 5 years ago from 1990 Westwood Blvd Suite 105, Los Angeles, CA 90025

      very tragic situation for the bengal tiger today. great lens, thanks!

    • malena10 profile image

      malena10 5 years ago

      I love bengal tigers, they are awesome!

    • HalloweenRecipes profile image

      HalloweenRecipes 5 years ago

      This is a great lens and the Bengal tigers are such majestic animals. I find children and animals to be the source of great joy and when I read articles about either being hurt or abused I want to do something about it. Thank you for the call to action.

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 5 years ago from California

      Interesting, I learned a few things about Bengal Tigers. You talked about that reserve and how all the tigers were gone, probably because of poaching. That sickens me. Another good article.

    • luniarose profile image

      luniarose 5 years ago

      Tigers are beautiful creatures. I loved your lense

    • Scriber1 LM profile image

      Scriber1 LM 5 years ago

      I have always had an affinity for tigers with their striking beauty and strength. I really enjoyed this lens.

    • Zut Moon profile image

      Zut Moon 5 years ago

      One of the most beautiful animals in nature.

    • profile image

      Spikey64 5 years ago

      What great animals Bengal Tigers are. It is sad to know that people can foresake their beauty in search of financial gain. This lens was a great find packed with captivating information. Thanks.

    • profile image

      jimmyworldstar 6 years ago

      They're beautiful creatures, I hope they're well protected. That's an interesting fact about them not attacking upright people. As for them not climbing trees I thought they did, or maybe that's lions or another species of tiger?

    • betsuzlap profile image

      betsuzlap 6 years ago

      What breathtaking beauties these Bengal Tigers are!

    • debnet profile image

      Debbie 6 years ago from England

      Blessed by a Squid Angel ;)

    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 6 years ago from Australia

      What a magnificent creature. This lens has been blessed and added to my animal alphabet lens.

    • rangiiria profile image

      rangiiria 6 years ago

      Bengal Tigers are such majestic animals. The threat of extinction is alarming and would be a massive loss. thanks for this lens :)

    • exotickitten731 profile image

      exotickitten731 6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing this lens, I love tigers and other cats in general = ] keep up the good work!

    • onetime33 profile image

      onetime33 6 years ago

      We love these beautiful tigers. Thanks for sharing!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 6 years ago from United States

      I am returning today to leave my April Blessings on this animal lens! Yes, I selected animals for my April 1 neighborhood. Imagine that! LOL

    • profile image

      grafixforacause 6 years ago

      It would be a loss to the human soul if these creatures did become extinct. We must all do our part, however small. Thanks for a great lens.

    • Phillyfreeze profile image

      Ronald Tucker 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

      Very interesting and enlightening lens focusing on the plight of the beautiful Bengal Tiger.

      The resources and organizations that are dedicated to ensure the survial of this magnificent animal is inspiring.

      I will support any all efforts to demand that the Chinese government make their band on the Tiger trade permanent.

    • sheriangell profile image

      sheriangell 6 years ago

      Well done! Blessed by an Angel today.

    • imolaK profile image

      imolaK 6 years ago

      The Bengal tigers are wonderful animals. Blessed!

    • profile image

      ShamanicShift 6 years ago

      The Tortoise Cat and I appreciate this lens about her endangered great cousins -- blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • CeruttiTesi profile image

      CeruttiTesi 7 years ago

      The Amour tiger has almost disappeared â in China they use tiger organs as medicine....

    • ArtSiren LM profile image

      ArtSiren LM 7 years ago

      Awesome lens Stazjia. So depressing there are so pitifully few tigers left in the wild. :(

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      A Beautiful animal to make a beautiful and very enjoyable lens about.

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Interesting lens - I was shocked to see the map showing how the Bengal tiger population has shrunk in recent years. lensrolled -

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 7 years ago

      I think the Bengal tigers are truly beautiful animals. I did not know that the male reaches sexual maturity at about four years of age! I would have thought younger.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 8 years ago from UK

      Very interesting and beautiful lens. It's great that you've been able to bring attention to their plight and correct some myths that have threatened them almost to the point of extinction.

    • admiralglass lm profile image

      admiralglass lm 8 years ago

      5* and lensrolled. I love cats (big and small ones). Hopefully we can save these cats. They are so beautiful!

    • Thrillophilia LM profile image

      Thrillophilia LM 8 years ago

      Hi,

      This is a nice lens about the Tigers. I really liked it. I also have some lenses on Tiger reserves in India. I hope you will have a look at them and appreciate the effort.

    • Commandrix profile image

      Heidi 8 years ago from Benson, IL

      Good lens; 5* and lensrolled. It would be such a shame if these neat cats disappeared.

    • Kiwisoutback profile image

      Kiwisoutback 8 years ago from Massachusetts

      Beautiful work on this endangered species lens, and welcome to the Endangered Species group!

    • buteoflyer2 profile image

      Kathie Miller 8 years ago from Southern California

      A wonderful and informative lens. Thanks for putting this together. We must educate people or nothing will ever change. I'll lensroll this and add to my favorites

    • julcal profile image

      julcal 8 years ago

      Thank you for this beautiful lens filled with important information. WELL DONE!

      5*

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 8 years ago

      I think this may be the most beautiful animal in a world filled with beautiful animals. I love the lens. ***** to you

      I think you may want to look at this book about Mable Stark: Tiger Whisperer it's a great read about a woman who loved tigers.

    • profile image

      topstuff 8 years ago

      absolutely beautiful animals, well done 5 stars

    • Wendy L Henderson profile image

      Wendy Henderson 8 years ago from PA

      Beautiful creatures.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      A beautiful thought provoking lens on these stunning Big Cats. (I believe cats and horses to be the most graceful creatures on the planet) Why are we still slaughtering tigers? P.S. I had to turn off the video 'End tiger trade' it made me so angry

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 8 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      Excellent lens, well-written and informative. Like most people, I've only ever seen Bengal tigers in zoos, but a friend of mine recently saw some in the wild in India. I didn't realize how few there are left, so I guess her experience really was rare.

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 8 years ago from Royalton

      You have done a superb job on this lens!

      Your lens is now featured on Tiger Island: The Awesome Pawsome.