Bengal Tigers in the Wild
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.
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.
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
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
Extract from a Research Paper
- Factors associated with human-killing tigers in Chitwan National Park, Nepal
This is an extract from the research paper Factors associated with human-killing tigers in Chitwan National Park, Nepal.
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.
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.
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
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
The Wildlife Protection Society of India
- WPSI - Wildlife Protection Society of India - Current Status of Tiger in India
It is thought that India has half the world's population of tigers in the wild and this society is dedicated to saving them along with other endangered species in India.