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Royal Bengal Tiger
Bengali: বাঘ
Hindi: बाघ
Captive Bengal tiger
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Pantherinae
Genus: Panthera
Species: P. tigris
Subspecies: P. t. tigris
Trinomial name
Panthera tigris tigris
(Linnaeus, 1760)

The Bengal tiger, or Royal Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris[1], previously Panthera tigris bengalensis), is a subspecies of tiger, found in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. The Bengal tiger is the most numerous of the tiger subspecies. According to WWF, there are about 2,100 Royal Bengal tigers in the wild today, including 1,411 in India, 450 in Bangladesh, 150 in Nepal and 100 in Bhutan.[2]

The Bengal tiger is historically regarded as the second largest subspecies after the Siberian tiger.[3] The Bengal subspecies P. tigris tigris is the national animal of Bangladesh, while at the species level, the tiger Panthera tigris is the national animal of India.[4]

Contents

Biology and behaviour

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Physical characteristics

A White Bengal Tiger at the Cougar Mountain Zoological Park.

Previously it was considered the second largest subspecies, behind the Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica); however, a recent study suggests that maybe this subspecies could be, on average, the largest of the tigers.[5] The total length (including the tail) for males is 270-310 cm, while females are 240–265 cm;[6] the tail measures 85–110 cm long and the height at the shoulder is 90–110 cm.[7] The average weight is 221.2 kg (487.7 lb) for males and 139.7 kg (308 lb) for females;[8] however, those who inhabit the north of India and Nepal have an average weight of 235 kg (518 lb) for males and 140 kg (308.6 lb) for females.[9] Its coat is a yellow to light orange, and the stripes range from dark brown to black; the belly is white, and the tail is white with black rings. A mutation of the Bengal subspecies, the white tiger, has dark brown or reddish brown stripes on a white background, and some are entirely white. Black tigers have tawny, yellow or white stripes on a black background color. The skin of a black tiger, recovered from smugglers, measured 259 cm and was displayed at the National Museum of Natural History, in New Delhi. The existence of black tigers without stripes has been reported but not substantiated.[10]

The Bengal tiger's roar can be heard for up to three kilometers (almost two miles) away.[11]

Tiger records

Officially, the heaviest Bengal tiger with confirmed weight was a male of 258.6 kg (570 lbs) and was shot in Northern India in 1938;[12] however, the heaviest captive males are two tigers (M105 and M026) weighing more than 270 kg (600 lb), tagged in Nepal in 1984.[13] The largest known Bengal tiger, measured between pegs, was a male with a head and body length of 221 cm, 150 cm of chest girth, a shoulder height of 109 cm and a tail of just 81 cm, perhaps bitten off by a rival male. This specimen could not be weighed, but it was calculated to weigh no less than 272 kg.[14] Finally, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the heaviest tiger known was a huge male hunted in 1967, measuring 322 cm in total length between pegs (338 cm over curves) and weighing 388.7 kg (857 lb). This specimen was hunted in northern India by David Hasinger and is actually on exhibition in the Smithsonian Institution, in the Mammals Hall.[15]

In the beginning of the 20th century, there were reports of big males measuring about 12 ft (3.7 m) in total length; however, there was not scientific corroboration in the field and it is probable that this measurement was taken over the curves of the body.[16]

Genetic ancestry

Bengal tigers are defined by three distinct mitochondrial nucleotide sites and 12 unique microsatellite alleles. The pattern of genetic variation in the Bengal tiger corresponds to the premise that these tigers arrived in India approximately 12,000 years ago. This recent history of tigers in the Indian subcontinent is consistent with the lack of tiger fossils from India prior to the late Pleistocene and the absence of tigers from Sri Lanka, which was separated from the subcontinent by rising sea levels in the early Holocene.[17][18] However, a recent study of two independent fossil finds from Sri Lanka, one dated to approximately. 16,500 years ago, tentatively classifies them as being a tiger.[19]

Behaviour

A male and female tiger in India interact with each other.

Tigers do not live in prides as lions do. They do not live as family units because the male plays no part in raising his offspring. Tigers mark their territory by spraying urine on a branch or leaves or bark of a tree, which leaves a particular scent behind. Tigers also spray urine to attract the opposite sex. When an outside individual comes into contact with the scent, it learns that the territory is occupied by another tiger. Hence, every tiger lives independently in its own territory.

Male Bengal tigers fiercely defend their territory from other tigers, often engaging in serious fighting. Female tigers are less territorial: occasionally a female will share her territory with other females. If a male happens to enter a female's territory, he will probably mate with her, if she is not already pregnant or has a litter. If she is pregnant or has a litter, he has no choice but to find himself a new territory and another potential mate. Similarly, females entering a male's territory are known to mate with him. Both males and females become independent of their mother around 18 months old, whereupon the cubs have to establish their own territories and fend for themselves. A male's territory is larger than a female's territory.

Reproduction and lifecycle

A male tiger with his cub at the Bandhavgarh National Park, in India.

Mating can occur at any time, but is most prevalent between November and April. Females can have cubs at the age of 3–4 years; males reach maturity by about 4 years old. After the gestation period of 103 days, 2-5 cubs are born. Newborn cubs weigh about 1 kg (2 lb) and are blind and helpless. The mother feeds them milk for 6–8 weeks and then the cubs are introduced to meat. The cubs depend on the mother for the first 18 months and then they start hunting on their own.[20]

Hunting and diet

Bengal tigers are classified as obligate carnivores, meaning that they have a diet of strictly meat. Bengal tigers eat a variety of animals found in their natural habitat, including deer (sambar, chital, barasingha, hog deer and muntjac), wild boars, water buffalo, gaur, nilgai antelope, and occasionally other ungulates (such as Nilgiri tahr, serow and takin, where available); tigers have also been observed eating small prey, such as monkeys, hares, birds (primarily peafowl), and porcupines, but large and medium-sized ungulates provide the majority of biomass consumed by tigers, and are essential for their survival.[21][22][23][24][25] Bengal tigers have also been known to take other predators, such as leopards, wolves, jackals, foxes, crocodiles, Asiatic black bears, sloth bears, and dholes as prey, although these predators are not typically a part of the tiger's diet. Adult elephants and rhinoceroses are too large to be successfully tackled by tigers, but such extraordinarily rare events have been recorded. The Indian hunter and naturalist Jim Corbett described an incident in which two tigers fought and killed a sick large bull elephant.[26] Due to the encroachment of humans onto the Bengal tiger's habitat, Bengal tigers also eat domestic cattle. If injured, old, or weak, tigers may even consume humans. When a tiger consumes human flesh, it becomes known as a man-eater and may continue to prey on humans. The nature of the tiger's hunting method and prey availability results in a "feast or famine" feeding style. Tigers gorge themselves, often consuming 18–20 kg (40–60 lb) of meat at one time, as they may not be successful hunting again for several days.[21] Bengal tigers prey on vulnerability, so they attack the last animal at the end of a herd, kill it, and then drag the animal's carcass to a safe location to consume it.[20]

Population and distribution

A Bengal tigress with her cubs at the Bandhavgarh National Park, India

The current population of wild Bengal tigers in the Indian subcontinent is estimated to be between 1,300 and 1,500.[27] Of these, 1,411 are found in the wild in India[28] while about 280 are found in Bangladesh, mostly in the Sunderbans.[29] Over the past century tiger numbers have fallen dramatically. Of eight subspecies alive in 1900, three are now extinct and we have lost over 90 per cent of wild tigers.[30]

Habitat losses and the extremely large-scale incidences of poaching are serious threats to species' survival. Poachers kill tigers not only for their pelts, but also for body parts used to make various traditional East Asian medicines. Other factors contributing to their loss are urbanization and revenge killing. Farmers blame tigers for killing cattle and shoot them. Poachers also kill tigers for their bones and teeth to make medicines that are alleged to impart the tiger's strength to the human who consumes the medicine. The hunting for Chinese medicine and fur is the biggest cause of the decline of the tigers.

India

An early silver coin of Uttama Chola found in Sri Lanka showing the Tiger emblem of the Cholas. In Grantha Tamil.[31][32]
The Shiva Pashupati, seal with tiger (broken) to right of the seated Shiva figure termed Pashupati
A Bengal Tiger in a natural reserve in Karnataka, India. 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.[33]

The Bengal tiger has been a national symbol of India since about the 25th century BCE when it was displayed on the Pashupati seal of the Indus Valley Civilisation. On the seal, the tiger, being the largest, represents the Yogi Shiva's people[34]

The tiger was later the symbol of the Chola Empire from 300 CE to 1279 CE and is now designated as the the official animal of India.[35]

India has about two-thirds of the world's wild tigers, according to the IUCN Cat Specialist Group. in the past, Indian censuses of wild tigers relied on the individual identification of footprints (known as pug marks), which one review criticized as inaccurate.[36] Using modern camera trap counting methods, the landmark 2008 national tiger census report, Status of the Tigers, Co-predators, and Prey in India, published by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, estimates only 1411 adult tigers in existence in India (plus uncensused tigers in the Sundarbans)[37].

As of June 2009, Bengal tigers are found in 37 tiger reserves spread across 17 Indian states.[38] An area of special interest lies in North India where 11 protected areas are found in the Terai Arc, comprising dry forest foothills and dune valleys at the base of the Himalayas. "The whole idea," says Seidensticker, "is to maintain the connection between them, to create a necklace (of habitat) along the Nepal-India border, involving 1,000 miles from the Royal Chitwan National Park to Corbett National Park."

Once a royal hunting reserve, Chitwan became a national park in 1973. New economic incentives give villagers a direct stake in this renowned tourist attraction, with more than a third of revenues from park entrance fees being returned to the 300,000 people living in 36 villages in the surrounding buffer zone. As a result, locals are now creating and managing tiger habitat and consider themselves guardians of their tigers.

Rivaling Chitwan for the title of the world's best tiger habitat is the Western Ghats forest complex in western South India, an area of 14,400 square miles (37,000 km2) stretching across several protected areas. The challenge here, as throughout most of Asia, is that people literally live on top of the wildlife. The Save the Tiger Fund Council estimates that 7,500 landless people live illegally inside the boundaries of the 386-square-mile Nagarhole National Park in southwestern India. A voluntary if controversial resettlement is underway with the aid of the Karnataka Tiger Conservation Project led by K. Ullas Karanth of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

A 2007 report by UNESCO, "Case Studies on Climate Change and World Heritage" has stated that an anthropogenic 45-cm rise in sea level (likely by the end of the 21st century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), combined with other forms of anthropogenic stress on the Sundarbans, could lead to the destruction of 75% of the Sundarbans mangroves.

While the Project Tiger initiative launched in 1972 initially reversed the species' population decline, the decline 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.[39] Since then, the Indian government has undertaken several steps to reduce the destruction of the Bengal tiger's natural habitat in India. In May 2008, forest officials at the Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan, India spotted 14 tiger cubs.[40] In June 2008, a tiger from Ranthambore was successfully reintroduced to the Sariska Tiger Reserve.[41]

Bangladesh

According to lateset pug mark census, 400 Bengal tigers are counted to live in Bangladesh. Most are in Sundarbans, while a few could be found in eastern hilly part of the country. The Sundarbans tiger project is a Bangladesh Forest Department initiative that effectively started its field activities in February 2005. The idea for creating such a project was first developed during a field survey in 2001, conducted by Md. Osman Gani, Ishtiaq U. Ahmad, James L. D. Smith and K. Ullas Karanth. They realized that the Sundarbans mangrove forest at the mouth of the Ganges River contained probably one of the largest populations of wild tigers left in the world. As such, there was an urgent need to start measures that would ensure the protection of this precious area.

The Save the Tiger Fund and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service generously donated funds to support the initial phase of research that aims to collect data on tiger ecology using telemetry, and study the tiger’s environment by assessing its habitat and prey.

But management of a wilderness area needs more than just information on the species to be protected. Personnel with skills and resources to implement conservation strategies, and the general support of the country are also required. So from the research base, the project is evolving rapidly to also encompass capacity building and conservation awareness activities. It has been able to do so through the forward thinking approach to management taken by the Forest Department, and the incredible support of the Bangladeshi people.

The project is administered by the Forest Department and it uses wildlife consultants from the University of Minnesota to advise on research strategies and train staff. At the field level, there is a team of 8, made up of Forest Department personnel and one wildlife consultant.

Others

Nepal, with a maximum of 200 tigers split into three isolated and vulnerable subpopulations, reports stability after a serious decline.

To the east of Nepal, in Bhutan, scientists in this small Buddhist kingdom have evidence of a richer tiger population than previously estimated. Camera traps snapped photos of a wild tiger high in the Himalayas, at the surprising elevation of 13,000 feet (4,000 m). This offers new possibilities for suitable tiger habitat.[10]

Relationship with humans

Poaching

A Bengal tiger in the Kanyakumari Wildlife Sanctuary[42]

The Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) works with law enforcement agencies in India to apprehend tiger poachers and wildlife traders throughout India. WPSI also makes every effort to investigate and verify any seizure of tiger parts and unnatural tiger deaths that are brought to their notice.

The illicit demand for bones from wild tigers for use in traditional Chinese medicine, coupled with the international trade in tiger skins, continues to be the main reason for the unrelenting poaching pressure on tigers in India. There is virtually no demand for either bones or skins of tigers within India.[43]

The following figures represent only a fraction of the actual poaching and trade in tiger parts in India. The central and state governments do not systematically compile information on tiger poaching cases and the details come from reports received by WPSI from enforcement authorities, work carried out by WPSI, and other sources.[44]

To date, WPSI has documented the following cases:

Year Tigers known to be killed
1994 95
1995 121
1996 52
1997 88
1998 44
1999 81
2000 53
2001 72
2002 43
2003 35
2004 34
2005 43
2006 37
2007 27

In 2006, India's Sariska Tiger Reserve lost all of its 26 tigers, mostly to poaching.[45] In 2009, the Panna Tiger Reserve also reported that there were not any tigers left within the sanctuary due to excessive poaching.[46]

Genetic pollution

Tara, a hand-reared supposedly Bengal tigress acquired from Twycross Zoo in England in July 1976, was trained by Billy Arjan Singh and reintroduced to the wild in Dudhwa National Park, India, with the permission of India's then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in an attempt to prove that zoo-bred, hand-reared tigers can be released in the wild with success. In the 1990s, some tigers from Dudhwa were observed which had the typical appearance of Siberian tigers: white complexion, pale fur, large head and wide stripes. With recent advances in science, it was subsequently found that Siberian tigers' genes have polluted the otherwise pure Bengal tiger gene pool of Dudhwa National Park. It was proved later that Twycross Zoo had been irresponsible and maintained no breeding records and had given India a hybrid Siberian-Bengal tigress instead. Dudhwa tigers constitute about 1% of India's total wild population, but the possibility exists of this genetic pollution spreading to other tiger groups; at its worst, this could jeopardize the Bengal tiger as a distinct subspecies.[47][48][49][50][51][52][53][54]

Attack on humans

Closeup of a Bengal tiger in a national park in southern India.

Tigers are known to not like the presence of humans in their territory, since they like to be alone. Any human interference in tiger hunting or whilst nursing are met by the tiger unwelcomingly. There have been incidences where mother tigers have been separated from their cubs due to human interference. A well-known incident occurred in Bandhavgarh National Park, where a tigress known as Mohini was separated from her cubs while crossing the road, since some tourists blocked her road to the other side, resulting in losing her contact with her cubs, who had already crossed the road. Usually, tigers become man eaters when they grow old and have no strength to hunt. At such times, if a human comes in contact with the tiger, it may be killed. But that is not the only reason why tigers become man eaters. If tigers do not have enough prey to feed upon, due to an imbalance in the food chain, they will often try to hunt humans. If a young tiger has injured teeth or paws, then it becomes difficult for him to tear apart his prey, which is also another reason for him to eat man.

Conservation efforts, status and controversies

Efforts in India

A Bengal tiger roams around in Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan, India. Because of dwindling tiger numbers, the Indian government has pledged US$153 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.[55]

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.[56]

Tiger scientists in India, such as Raghu Chundawat and Ullas Karanth, have faced criticism from the forest department. Both these scientists have been for years calling for use of technology in the conservation efforts. Chundawat, in the past, had been involved with radio telemetry (collaring the tigers). While studying tigers in Panna tiger reserve, he repeatedly warned the FD authorities about the problem of tiger poaching in the reserve; they remained in denial, producing bogus numbers of tigers in their reports, and banned Chundawat from the reserve. Eventually, however, it was proven he was right, as in 2008. the authorities admitted that all tigers in Panna have been poached. Karanth has been instrumental in using camera traps, radiotelemetry and prey counts. During the 1990s and early 2000s he also noticed that tiger numbers were significantly lower than the official figures; his insistence on using modern science in tiger conservation and uncompromising efforts to save tigers and their habitat have earned him many enemies.

The project to map all the forest reserves in India has not been completed yet, though the Ministry of Environment and Forests had sanctioned Rs. 13 million for the same in March 2004.

A recent article written by Shashwat DC and published in the Dataquest Magazine talks about the issue in complete detail [6]. In the story, noted wildlife expert George Schaller was quoted as saying:

"India has to decide whether it wants to keep the tiger or not. It has to decide if it is worthwhile to keep its National Symbol, its icon, representing wildlife. It has to decide if it wants to keep its natural heritage for future generations, a heritage more important than the cultural one, whether we speak of its temples, the Taj Mahal, or others, because once destroyed it cannot be replaced."

In January 2008, the Government of India launched a dedicated anti-poaching force comprised of experts from Indian police, forest officials and various other environmental agencies.[57] Indian officials successfully started a project to reintroduce the tigers into the Sariska reserve.[58] The Ranthambore National Park is often cited as a major success by Indian officials against poaching.[59]

Re-wilding project in South Africa

There is a Bengal tiger re-wilding project started by John Varty in 2000. This project involves training captive-bred Bengal tiger cubs by their human trainers so that the tigers can regain their predatory instincts. Once they prove that they can sustain themselves in the wild, they would be released into the wilderness of Africa to fend for themselves. Their trainers, John Varty and Dave Salmoni (big-cat trainer and zoologist), have to teach them how to stalk, to hunt, and, most importantly, to associate hunting with food.

It is claimed that two Bengal tigers have already succeeded in re-wilding, and two more tigers are currently undergoing their re-wilding training. This project is featured by The Discovery Channel as a documentary, Living With Tigers. It was voted one of the best Discovery Channel documentaries in 2003.

A strong criticism about this project is with the chosen cubs. Experts state that the four tigers (Ron, Julie, Seatao and Shadow) involved in the re-wilding project are not purebred Bengal tigers and should not be used for breeding. The four tigers are not recorded in the Bengal tiger studbook and should not be deemed as purebred Bengal tigers. Many tigers in the world's zoos are genetically impure, and there is no reason to suppose these four are not among them.[60] The 1997 International Tiger Studbook lists the current global captive population of Bengal tigers at 210 tigers. All of the studbook-registered captive population is maintained in Indian zoos, except for one female Bengal tiger in North America.[61] It is important to note that Ron and Julie (two of the tigers) were bred in the USA and hand-raised at Bowmanville Zoo in Canada[62], while Seatow and Shadow are two tigers bred in South Africa.[63]

The tigers in the Tiger Canyons Project have recently been confirmed to be crossbred Siberian/Bengal tigers. Tigers that are not genetically pure are not allowed to be released into the wild and will not be able to participate in the tiger Species Survival Plan, which aims to breed genetically pure tiger specimens and individuals.[64] In short, these tigers do not have any genetic value.[64]

The documentary has been proven to be a fraud.[65] The tigers are unable to hunt, and the film crew chased the prey up against the fence and into the path of the tigers just for the sake of dramatic footage. Cory Meacham, a US-based environmental journalist mentioned that "the film has about as much to do with tiger conservation as a Disney cartoon." In addition, the tigers have not been released, and indeed still reside in a small enclosure under constant watch and with frequent human contact. The Discovery documentary contains footage that its maker, John Varty, has admitted on affidavit to be false. Conservationists fear that the public will be misled in this cynical fashion.[66]

In popular culture

References

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  47. ^ Indian tiger isn't 100 per cent “swadeshi (Made in India)”; by PALLAVA BAGLA; Indian Express Newspaper; November 19, 1998
  48. ^ Tainted Royalty, WILDLIFE: ROYAL BENGAL TIGER, A controversy arises over the purity of the Indian tiger after DNA samples show Siberian tiger genes. By Subhadra Menon. INDIA TODAY, November 17, 1997
  49. ^ The Tale of Tara, 4: Tara's Heritage from Tiger Territory website
  50. ^ Genetic pollution in wild Bengal tigers, Tiger Territory website
  51. ^ Interview with Billy Arjan Singh: Dudhwa's Tiger man, October 2000, Sanctuary Asia Magazine, sanctuaryasia.com
  52. ^ Mitochondrial DNA sequence divergence among big cats and their hybrids by Pattabhiraman Shankaranarayanan* and Lalji Singh*, *Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Uppal Road, Hyderabad 500 007, India, Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, CCMB Campus, Uppal Road, Hyderabad 500 007, India
  53. ^ Central Zoo Authority of India (CZA), Government of India
  54. ^ "Indians Look At Their Big Cats' Genes", Science 278 (5339): 807, October 31, 1997, doi:10.1126/science.278.5339.807b .
  55. ^ Tigers flown by helicopter to Sariska reserve to lift numbers in western India - Times Online
  56. ^ "Just 1,411 tigers in India". The Times of India. February 13, 2008. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Health--Science/Earth/Flora--Fauna/File-Just-1411-tigers-in-India/articleshow/2777803.cms. Retrieved 2009-03-03. 
  57. ^ India launches anti-poaching force to curb tiger, wildlife trade
  58. ^ It's the tale of a tiger, two tigresses in wilds of Sariska
  59. ^ Tigers galore in Ranthambhore National Park
  60. ^ Releasing Captive Tigers - South Africa
  61. ^ Save The Tiger Fund | Bengal Tiger
  62. ^ Ron and Julie, Living with Tigers, Tiger Canyons, John Varty
  63. ^ Seatao and Shadow, Tiger Canyons, John Varty
  64. ^ a b Purrrfect Breed?
  65. ^ http://www.wildeye.co.uk/wildlife-film/Wfn/wfn56.htm
  66. ^ http://www.nomadtours.co.za/article_2006-6-2_5.html

pranav parameshwaran IUCN red list of threatened speacies 2010

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Redirecting to Bengal tiger


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