Tigers have left their mark on flags, mascots and coat-of-arms. It’s the national animal of Bangladesh. The Royal Bengal Tiger is the state animal of West Bengal State in India (IUCN, 1). One of the first scientific descriptions of the species was given by Linnaeus in 1758 as Felis tigris. In 1929, Reginald Pocock, British taxonomist , subordinated this species to be Panthera tigris. It is probably derived from an archaic Greek word “panther” and the Latin “panthera”. Latin “tigris” refers to a spotted tiger-like hound. In Greek there is the word ‘Tigris’ – its source being Persian.
The importance of study of tiger is primal in ecological sustainability. According to John Seidensticker (1999) “Top carnivores, including eagles, tigers, and great white sharks, are predestined by their perch at the apex of the food web to be big in size and sparse in numbers. They live on such a small portion of life’s available energy as always to skirt the edge of extinction, and they are the first to suffer when the ecosystem around them starts to erode” (p. 55). COLOR AND APPEARANCE Among the cat species, the largest is the tiger. The male tiger outweighs and outsize’s the female tiger.
Depending on the type of tiger, the body size varies in length from 4feet 7inches to 9feet10 inches, including the tail. The tiger may weigh up to 660 lbs in the larger species, and as in the smaller ones the weight ranges around 310lbs . The size and color vary according to the geographic location and climate. The dark stripes running vertically along its orange-red fur is its defining hallmark; the under belly is relatively lighter in shade. Their canine teeth are the longest in the cat family. The size varies among the Bengal, the Caspian, and the Siberian tigers.
The largest is the Siberian tiger while the smallest is the Sumatran tiger (Tilson and Nyhus, 20). The female is smaller and their forepaw is also less wide than that of the male. The forequarters of these muscular tigers are powerful and the males have larger heads than the tigress. Long hairs frame the face forming whiskers; these too being more prominent in the male. In general, the region around the belly is white. The black stripes vary in its form as well as length and breadth from one tiger to another. These are identification marks.
Most probably the stripes help in camouflage while the animal hiding in the quivering shadows and long grasses stalk prey. The patterns are not only on the fur but imbedded in the skin of the animal. The yellow irises are set in circular pupils. The ears are proportionately small and round; the dorsal side being black having a noticeable white spot in the centre (Tilson and Nyhus, 67). HABITAT Tigers are solitary and territorial requiring a large prey-supporting area that is contiguous. Their habitat is mainly in some of the densely populated regions in the world and this is leading to constant conflict with man.
Today their range has narrowed down mainly to the mangrove forests of tropical Asia and the taiga in Siberia. The population has gone down to an alarming 3,948 at the most. The remaining tigers still in existence live in isolated pockets. Their area of coverage has gone down by 41% from what was calculated during the mid 90s. The tiger can be divided into 9 sub-species; three have become extinct. Historically their range included Iran, Siberia, Afghanistan, China, India, Bangladesh, and South East Asia (inclusive of three islands of Indonesia) (IUCN).
For some tiger species help came too late. A number of tiger species have already been wiped out. The Bali tiger, for example, is one of the species to become extinct. The Bali tiger was the smallest among the sub-species. Bali is an island in Indonesia. The last one was killed in 1937 and there is none in captivity. Another extinct sub-species is the Caspian tiger that roamed the forests and riverine tracts around the Caspian Sea and going through Central Asia to the Takla-Makan desert in Xinjiang (IUCN, 1). After 1970 there has been recorded viewings of the tiger.
Another extinct tiger species is the Javan tiger. It roamed the island of Java. None has been viewed after 1979. The remains of fossils indicate that during the latter part of the Pleistocene and Holocene ages tigers inhabited the forests of Borneo, Palawan and Philippines. Tigers need plenty of cover, closeness to water, and a surplus of prey to survive. For Bengals, the ideal place is the delta of the Ganga that is thick with mangrove trees. They are also found in Assam, Nepal, and the Western Ghats. Unlike lions, tigers are solitary creatures once they reach adulthood.
They come together only temporarily when they mate or when they are dependent on their mother during the developing period. They stick to their territories if their needs are satisfied. The range of the tigress is about 20 sq km while for the male it is much larger going up to 100 sq km (IUCN, 1). The range of the tiger often overlaps that of the female. Tigers are exceptionally strong swimmers. This is especially noticeable in the Sunderban area of Gangetic Bay of Bengal. They bathe in rivers and lakes and can carry their prey through the waters.
Males are not tolerant of others of the same sex but more lenient towards females. The disputes over territory are resolved by aggressive body language rather than actual combat. The adversary who is cowed down surrender by rolling on the ground with legs stretched upwards exposing its belly. Once superiority is accepted, the male even puts up with the presence of the other male within its area so long they are not too close to each other. However, while the female tiger is in heat, violence between the male tigers can ensue and can even lead to the death of one of the competing tigers; however, such an event is a rare occurrence.
Tigers identify their territory by spraying urine on trees as markers; anal secretions and or feces are also used in similar manner. The males resort to grimacing (Flehmen response) when finding out the reproductive condition of the female while sniffing her urine marks. Tigers communicate through roars. They also moan, hiss, growl and make purring like sound known as chuffs. Although mating can be any time of the year it is generally common from November till April. The female is ready for mating for only a couple of days but during this time mating is frequent. The pair mates noisily.
The gestation period lasts 16 weeks. The litter comprises of generally 3 to 4 cubs weighing a kilogram each. They are blind at birth and totally helpless. The male vanishes after mating and the female rears the cubs on her own by keeping them sheltered in rocky crevices and thickets. Males, not biologically connected with the cubs are known to kill them so as to make the tigress ready for mating again. The rate of mortality of the cubs is fairly high. Nearly half of them do not reach their second birthday. Through her life the tigress gives birth to about equal numbers of cubs from both genders.
In captivity tigers breed well. In America, the numbers are equal if not more than the wild tigers (Tilson and Nyhus). TIGER DIET AND EATING HABITS According to WPSI (2011), “Tigers are meat eaters. Their diet includes chital, sambar, gaur, barasingha, …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” (p. 1). Tigers sometimes steal the calves of both elephants and rhinos. Straying into human habitat they sneak upon dogs, horses as well as donkeys (IUCN, 1).
Injured or old tigers when finding it difficult to kill prey in the wild have become man-eaters. The exception is in the Sundarbans. Here healthy tigers kill fishermen and honey gatherers in the forest. Man becomes a regular menu in their diet. After much picking and choosing tigers sometimes eat vegetables and fruits; their favorite is that of the Kumbhi or Slow Match tree. Although tigers are generally nocturnal hunters, it has been known that in some regions where humans are not there, remote cameras have seen that they hunt also during daylight.
They hunt alone ambushing their prey like other cats, using angle and body size to knock down large prey. Despite their large size they can pick up speed up to even 65 km per house but only for short spells. Thus, before they come out of cove, tigers have to be close to their prey. Tigers leaping ability is exceptional. A tiger can reach up to 10 meters high. Out of every twenty attempts they are successful only once. Tigers bite into the throat of large prey using forelimbs to keep the grip while throwing it on to the ground. The tiger does not give up its hold on the neck till the prey is strangled to death.
In this manner animals six times heavier than the tiger, like the buffalos and gaurs, are killed. In the case of smaller prey, its nape is bitten and the spinal cord snapped. Very rarely tigers swipe their paws to kill; the paws are powerful enough to squash the heads of cattle and crack sloth bear’s backs. When faced with a crocodile the tiger uses its paws to get at the eyes. In general, both the big species avoid each other. Usually the conflict happens when the tiger goes into the water to slake its thirst. The combat generally leaves the crocodile disabled although the big cat escapes (“Indian Tiger”).
Leopards hunt during different times of the day thus dodging the tiger. Wolf populations have been suppressed by the tigers but wolves often attack the tiger successfully in packs. A strange understanding springs up between a single jackal thrown out of his pack and the tiger. The jackal keeps a safe distance living off the left-over remains of the tiger’s feast. Siberian tigers are competitors of brown bears and sometimes the bear cubs and even adults are killed. In Russia’s far eastern region, the black bears comprise of 5% to 8% of the diet of the tigers.
The bears coming out of hibernation often sneak upon the kills of tigers (IUCN, 1). THE LIFE OF TIGERS On an average whether in the wild or in zoos, tigers live up to 20 to 26 years. In each litter there is one cub that is dominating and more than usual it is a male but not always. During play it can be seen to takes the lead role. It also leaves its mother first. The cubs come out of their hiding when they are 8 weeks but they do not follow their mother around. Around 18 months they are more independent but do not leave the tigress until they are 2 years; some hang on another six months.
Females reach maturity when they are 3 or 4 years old while the males do so at four or five years (IUCN, 1). Life has been tough for tigers for centuries and perhaps out of a deep depression in the soul of the species it is now on the verge of extinction. Humans are the most important predators of tigers. For centuries the tiger has been the favorite game animal and hunted by men on foot, on horses, on the back of elephants and from ‘machans’ or platforms erected on trees. Hunting of tigers added to the prestige of hunters; being elusive the tiger is more difficult to hunt that the lion.
There have been many who have returned from the jaws of lions but few from tiger attacks. The lion roars but the tiger is stealthy (IUCN, 1). The tiger had not been thought to be endangered till the first few decades of the 20th century. In India the tiger population has tumbled from 40,000 to being less than 1,800 during few hundred years. The British Raj in India saw a spurt in tiger hunting. In 1986 it was noticed that the number of tigers has rapidly declined because of poisoning, snares and shooting. The parts were smuggled to China for use in traditional medicine.
The banning of it by China has only increased the value but not checked the decimation. Per tiger a poacher gets $800. China has however started tiger-farming to counter the loss and to provide the required parts for medicinal purposes. In post communist Russia the adverse economy has caused relaxation of tiger killing laws and hardly any Siberian tiger is now allowed to reach old age (IUCN,1). CONCLUSION Tiger parts are used for skin cancer, to banish evil spirits, as general tonic, to cure abscesses, laziness and also acne, to stop convulsions, toothaches and as an aphrodisiac.
The question is what is there to revive the number of tigers? The answer lies in providing a sustainable ecology for the tiger. However, awareness and finance are two important aspects saving the tiger ecology. According to the report by John Seidensticker (1999), “Zoos have embraced the environmental movement to support endangered species conservation…Zoo visitors and the public at large must be a partner in saving the tiger, because it is the public who supports the legal framework that protects tigers and it is the public which foots much of the bill” (p. 00).
From writing this paper, I realized how imperative our action is in order to save the last of these beautiful creatures. Despite the effort put into conservation by organizations and activists, their work can easily be damaged by others who have interest in habitat destruction, illegal poaching, and manipulating laws made to protect species. Because of people who do such heinous act as the poaching and destruction of habitats, the population of tigers is believed to have declined by 95 percent in the last century.
The IUCN data proposes that globally the tiger population has declined to an estimated range from 3,402-5,140 or lower, revised down from estimates of 5,000 to 7,000 from only a few years earlier. The relentless hunting and clearing of habitat for agriculture purposes has been the main causes of the tiger decline. Although, demand for tiger skins, bone, and organs have been used for “medicinal” purposes making tiger poaching become a progressively more important threat in recent years.
The poachers take away every part of the tiger from the scene of crime, leaving behind no evidence of their presence or the act. Therefore, many poaching cases are unnoticed and undetected so the poacher does not get punished by the law and the tiger gets no justice. It’s not just tigers either this is happening to either. Rare leopards, deer and other animals are also being illegally poached, traded and losing their homes to deforestation which is also making them endangered like the tiger.
If humans do not change the way they are proceeding with the deforestation and poaching, tigers will not be around in the next ten years. The only place people will be able to see a tiger is in a zoo, which is not where is should roam, behind a glass wall. We live in the animals world and should learn to respect their homes and lives, not destroy them.