Tigers – A Symbol of Royalty

They are the symbols of royalty, strength and beauty and are the national animals of India. We are definitely talking about the tigers. Presently they come under the category of endangered animals as they have been hunted by the humans on large scale for their amazing skin which fetches higher sum of money and their claws and teeth are the items of decoration. Mass killing of their beautiful animal has declined its population to that extent that they are on the verge of extinction. Many wild life reserves, national parks are there all over the world to save this elegant animal from extinction.

The scientific name of tiger is Pantera tigris and it belongs to the phylum Chordata and class Mammalia. The order Carnivora and the family Felidae form the complete address of tiger. Tiger is the native of southern and eastern Asia and is an apex predator and obligate carnivorous animal. The average body size of an adult tiger is 3.3 m and its body weight may be 300 kg. Tigers can be easily identified by the presence of dark vertical stripes over the orange white fur and lighter under parts. The subspecies that comprises the largest population of the tiger is the Bengal tiger and the largest subspecies of tiger is the Siberian tiger. They are very well adapted to their habitats and can be found easily available in the Siberian taiga, open grasslands and the mangrove swamps. They make their own territories and love to live solitary and hunt on a large variety of animals for getting their food. When their prey becomes scarce they do not hesitate to attack humans also. Out of the nine subspecies of the modern tigers three are completely extinct and the remaining six share the category of endangered animals. Hunting and fragmentation are the major causes of their population reduction. Tigers form the worlds most popular and charismatic mega fauna.

The word tiger has been originated from the Greek word tigris which means arrow and it refers to the speed of this animal. Tigers were distributed in the Asia from the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea to Siberia and Indonesia in the past. During the 19th century these animals became extinct from the western Asia and became confined to small pocket of the adjoining areas. Presently the only island that is providing shelter to the largest number of tigers is Sumatra. The population of tigers is also present in India, China and the Southeast Asia. Borneo is famous for housing the fossils of tigers only. Tigers prefer to live in those areas where enough green cover, plenty of prey and water resources are available. Bengal tigers have a wide habitat range. They dwell in wet, evergreen, semi evergreen forests of Assam, mangrove forests of Ganges Delta, deciduous forests of Nepal and the thorn forests of the Western Ghats. They are good swimmers and enjoy playing with cold water and can swim up to 4 miles continuously.

Tigers are believed to have evolved from a tiger like cat Panthera palaeosinensis whose remains have been found in China and Java. It is believed that these cats were present two million years ago in the Pleistocene and were smaller than the modern tigers. The earliest fossils of true tigers are believed to be 1.6 and 1.8 million years old. The tigers are most beautiful among all the members of the cat family. They have rusty-reddish to brown-rusty fur coats with a white ventral area and a tinge of white that encircles the face and stripes of black or dark brown over the rusty reddish coat. The number of stripes differs according to the subspecies but every tiger on an average has about hundred stripes. The pattern of the stripe is characteristic of each tiger subspecies and it is used for identification of the subspecies. The striped body acts as a weapon of camouflage and helps the tiger to remain unseen in the vicinity of the prey and helps in getting the prey easily with less effort. The tigers bear a white spot at the back of their ears called ocelli which acts as a social symbol and is found in all the big cats. The other demarcated characters of tigers include strongly built legs and shoulders just like that of the lions which help them to grab and pull the preys heavier and bigger than their own bodies. The body size and the body weight differ according to the species. The tigresses are always smaller than the males and the males are generally 1.7 times larger in size as compared to the females. This distinction is fund in every subspecies of the tigers. The skull of the tiger resembles closely with that of the lion with certain differences which includes longer postorbital region.

At present there are nine subspecies of tigers which are recognized out which three are totally extinct. These include the Bengal or the Royal tiger, Indochinese tiger, Malayan tiger, Sumatran tiger, Siberian tiger, South China tiger. These are the species of tigers which are present today and are searching means to increase in numbers equivalent to the one that occurred in the past. In 1977 the government of China passed a law to ban the mass killing of this royal animal but it was too late and few subspecies had already faced extinction. The extinct subspecies of tigers include the Bali tiger, Javan tiger and the Caspian tiger. The hybridization of tigers was started in the 19th century when the lions and tigers were crossed and the resulting offsprings were given the names ligers and tigons. This practice was first tried in the zoos and is under strict control of the government of China. Liger is the result of cross between male lion and the tigress and tigon is the result of cross between male tiger and female lioness.

White tiger is the result of well known gene mutation termed as chinchilla albinistic. The white tigers are actually rare in the wild and are bred in the zoos because of their popularity. Breeding of the white tigers may also be responsible for inbreeding. The white tiger is actually not a subspecies but a result of colour variation particularly in the Bengal tigers and only one white tiger occurs in every 10,000 live births. The gene carrying such type of mutation is a recessive gene and is carried either by any of the two parents. Another type of recessive gene mutation is responsible for the birth of golden tabby tigers which have light golden fur, pale yellow legs and very faint orange stripes. The population of the golden tabby tigers is only 30.

Tigers are actually solitary animals but have well marked territories. The range of their territories depends upon the availability of prey and access on females. The territory of the tigress may range up to 20 square kilometers but males have larger territories which may extend up to 60-100 square kilometers. When a young tigress makes her territory it prefers an area close to her mother’s territory while young males prefer to make their territories in areas devoid of any other male. The males are very violent and often fight for females. Terrible violent fights occur between the males especially when the female is in estrous and the death of the weaker opponent may also result in such fight. Tigers mark their territories by spraying of urine, secretion of anal gland, scat also. They also roar to defend their territories. Tigers generally prey on large and medium sized animals which include the chital, gaur, sambar, deer, wild boar and buffalo. Sometimes they also hunt leopards, pythons for getting their food. The old or the wounded tigers which are unable to hunt often prey on humans like the tigers of Sunderbans in India are man eaters. Tigers also feed on vegetation for getting their dietary fiber and the fiber of Slow Match tree is highly favoured. Tigers prefer to hunt at night either alone or in groups and run at a speed of 49-65 kilometers per hour. Out of twenty hunts only one result in killing of the prey. When hunting on larger animals they tend to grab the throat with the help of fore-limbs and the prey dies because of strangulation. While preying on smaller animals they bite at the nape, break the spinal cord or often pierce the spinal cord.

Mating in tigers can occur throughout the tear but the most preferred months are November and April. The females are receptive only for short duration and within this duration the mating must take place. A mating pair copulates very frequently and noisily like other cats and gestation period is of 16 weeks. The number of offsprings produced may be 3-4 and each weighing 1 kg, blind and helpless. The tigress takes part in caring of the young ones and the father takes no part in parental care. After five months the tigress will again give birth to another set of litters if the previous ones will be lost. The young ones after 8 weeks come out of the den and are ready to follow their mother. There is a single dominant cub of either sex in the litter. The cubs remain with their mother until they are two and a half years old. The females reach maturity at the age of 3-4 years and the males at the age of 4-5 years. During her complete life span the female gives birth to equal number of male and female cubs.

The mass killing of tigers for fur and destruction of their natural habitat are responsible for the decline of the population of tigers. According to report that at the beginning of 20th century the total 100,000 population of tigers got reduced to only 2,000 in the wild. India is believed to house world’s largest population of tigers. According to a report of World Wildlife Fund out of 3,500 tigers in the world 1,400 are found in India. A major project entitled Project Tiger was started in 1973 with the efforts of Indira Gandhi to save this royal animal and is running successfully till present. Many national parks have already been established in India for conservation of tigers. Not only in India but all over the world measures are being taken to save this beautiful animal from extinction.

Tigers are the symbol of strength and are the source of terror. Yet they look dangerous but make our jungles beautiful. Come, let’s save our tigers from extinction.