The Bengal Tiger (Panthera Tigris Tigris) is an endangered subspecies of tiger. It is generally believed to be the largest of all of this particular wild cat’s subspecies. Although it is also considered to boast the largest numbers, there are still fewer than 2000 of these majestic creatures still living in their natural habitats today, with a few more being preserved and protected in tiger sanctuaries. The vast majority of this population lives in India, while other groups of Bengal Tigers can be found in Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. The Bengal Tiger (sometimes called the Indian Tiger), measure between approximately 3 metres (males) and 2.5 metres (females). The tiger is generally identified by its rich golden coat with dark brown or black stripes. It has a white belly, rounded ears and a long tail, typical of wild cat species. Bengal Tigers are biologically defined by unique microsatellite alleles and mitochondrial nucleotide sites, rather than by specific physical traits that may distinguish them from other tiger subspecies. They are believed to have come about in India some 12 000 years ago, a theory that several archaeological and fossilised findings seem to support.
Male tigers tend to live and travel alone, marking their own territory as they go. They play no active role in the raising of their offspring and, therefore, have no need to travel in packs. Females, on the other hand, will live with their young, protecting them, feeding them, and teaching them to hunt for their own food. The females Bengal Tiger will sometimes share her territory with other females, unlike males who are very territorial. Cubs move from their parents to live an independent life at about 18 months of age. At this time, they will establish their own territory (by spraying the surrounding foliage), hunt for themselves and find a mate with whom to breed.
Bengal Tigers are carnivorous and, because of their size and their impressive power and speed, they are able to eat a wide range of prey, even hunting animals larger or bulkier than themselves. Common prey includes various antelope, buffaloes, wild boars, monkeys, hares, leopards, wolves, domestic cattle, foxes, bears and porcupines. Some attacks by Bengals have even been made on elephants and rhinoceroses (usually in collaboration with one or more tigers). In the more rural areas, where people live within the natural habitat of Bengal Tigers, attacks on humans have been reported. These are usually by tigers that are weak or ill. Interestingly, once they have eaten a human being, they tend to establish a pattern of doing so, usually resulting in their having to be killed for the safety of the villagers or farmers.
Today, the population numbers of Bengal Tigers are threatened from all sides. Their natural habitat is shrinking exponentially as industrial, residential and commercial developments continue to encroach on this land. In addition, Bengal Tigers are poached for their exquisite pelts as well as for their perceived medicinal value, as their teeth, bones and fur are believed to impart powers to the humans that consume them. In fact, over 90% of all tiger subspecies have disappeared since the beginning of the 20th century, mostly at human hands.
The Bengal Tiger has been the national symbol of the subcontinent of India for millennia. In fact, there are records of its status as such that date back to the 25th century BCE (Before our Common Era). At this time, it represented the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation and was on their Pashupati seal. Today, it is the official animal of India.
There are numerous reserves across India that have been established to protect these magnificent animals. These are a delight for tourists, but also play an integral role in educating locals and travellers alike, and in protecting the biodiversity of India. The Indian government has committed to sizeable investments into various tiger-saving initiatives. These projects are focussed on education, minimising the amount of contact locals have with tigers and combating poachers.
The Save the Tiger Fund-Panthera Partnership (www.panthera.org/programs/tiger/save-tiger-fund)
The Corbett Foundation (www.corbettfoundation.org)
Big Cat Rescue (www.bigcatrescue.org)
Other notable conservation groups for tigers include:
.Asian Conservation Awareness Programme (ACAP)
.Care for the Wild
.The David Shepherd Conservation Foundation
.Defenders of Wildlife
.Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)
.The Fund for the Tiger
.Global Tiger Forum
.Global Tiger Patrol
.Hornocker Wildlife Institute
.India Tiger Trust
.Isle of Wright Zoo
.ISIS.International Species Inventory System
.IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group
.IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG)
.Love for Tigers
.PERC – Pacific Environment and Resources Center
.Save China’s Tigers
.Shambala and the Roar Foundation
.Sierra Club Tiger Volunteers
.The Tiger Foundation
.Tiger Missing Link Foundation
.Tigers in Crisis
.The Wildlife Conservation Society
.Wildlife Institute of India
.Wildlife Trust of India
.WWF – World Wide Fund for Nature
.Zoological Society of London: 21st Century Tiger