Bengal tiger

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Bengal tiger
Walking tiger female.jpg
Tigress in Kanha National Park
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Pantherinae
Genus: Panthera
P. t. tigris
Trinomial name
Panthera tigris tigris
Panthera tigris tigris and Panthera tigris corbetti distribution map.png
Range of Bengal tiger in red
Synonyms [2]
  • P. t. fluviatilis
  • P. t. montanus
  • P. t. regalis
  • P. t. striatus

The Bengal tiger, also known as the Royal Bengal tiger, [3] is a tiger from a specific population of the Panthera tigris tigris subspecies that is native to the Indian subcontinent. [4] It is threatened by poaching, loss, and fragmentation of habitat, and was estimated at comprising fewer than 2,500 wild individuals by 2011. None of the Tiger Conservation Landscapes within its range is considered large enough to support an effective population of more than 250 adult individuals. [1] India's tiger population was estimated at 2,603–3,346 individuals by 2018. [5] Around 300–500 tigers are estimated in Bangladesh, 220–274 tigers in Nepal and 103 tigers in Bhutan. [1] [6] [7]


The tiger is estimated to be present in the Indian subcontinent since the Late Pleistocene, for about 12,000 to 16,500 years. [8] [9] [10]

The Bengal tiger ranks among the biggest wild cats alive today. [2] [11] It is considered to belong to the world's charismatic megafauna. [12]


Felis tigris was the scientific name used by Carl Linnaeus in 1758 for the tiger. [13] It was subordinated to the genus Panthera by Reginald Innes Pocock in 1929. Bengal is the traditional type locality of the species and the nominate subspecies Panthera tigris tigris. [14]

The validity of several tiger subspecies in continental Asia was questioned in 1999. Morphologically, tigers from different regions vary little, and gene flow between populations in those regions is considered to have been possible during the Pleistocene. Therefore, it was proposed to recognise only two subspecies as valid, namely P. t. tigris in mainland Asia, and P. t. sondaica in the Greater Sunda Islands and possibly in Sundaland. [15] The nominate subspecies P. t. tigris constitutes two clades: the northern clade comprises the Siberian and Caspian tiger populations, and the southern clade all remaining continental tiger populations. [16] The extinct and living tiger populations in continental Asia have been subsumed to P. t. tigris since the revision of felid taxonomy in 2017. [4]

Results of a genetic analysis of 32 tiger samples indicate that the Bengal tiger samples grouped into a different monophyletic clade than the Siberian tiger samples. [17]

Genetic ancestry

The Bengal tiger is 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 it arrived in India approximately 12,000 years ago. [18] This is consistent with the lack of tiger fossils from the Indian subcontinent 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. [9]


Tiger facial marking Sultan (T72) Ranthambhore India 12.10.2014.jpg
Facial close up of Sultan, a male in Ranthambore National Park
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A white tiger

The Bengal tiger's coat is yellow to light orange, with stripes ranging from dark brown to black; the belly and the interior parts of the limbs are white, and the tail is orange with black rings. The white tiger is a recessive mutant, which is reported in the wild from time to time in Assam, Bengal, Bihar, and especially in the former State of Rewa. However, it is not an occurrence of albinism. In fact, there is only one fully authenticated case of a true albino tiger, and none of black tigers, with the possible exception of one dead specimen examined in Chittagong in 1846. [19]

Males and females have an average total length of 270 to 310 cm (110 to 120 in) and 240 to 265 cm (94 to 104 in) respectively, including a tail of 85 to 110 cm (33 to 43 in) long. [2] [20] They typically range 90 to 110 cm (35 to 43 in) in height at the shoulders. [20] The standard weight of males ranges from 175 to 260 kg (386 to 573 lb), while that of the females ranges from 100 to 160 kg (220 to 350 lb). [2] [20] The smallest recorded weights for Bengal tigers are from the Bangladesh Sundarbans, where adult females are 75 to 80 kg (165 to 176 lb). [21]

The tiger has exceptionally stout teeth. Its canines are 7.5 to 10 cm (3.0 to 3.9 in) long and thus the longest among all cats. [22] The greatest length of its skull is 332 to 376 mm (13.1 to 14.8 in). [15]

Body weight and size

Bengal tigers reach a head-to-body length of 204 cm (80 in) plus a tail of 107 cm (42 in) and a weight of up to 261 kg (575 lb). [22] Several scientists indicated that adult male Bengal tigers in the Terai consistently attain more than 227 kg (500 lb) of body weight. Seven adult males captured in Chitwan National Park in the early 1970s had an average weight of 235 kg (518 lb) ranging from 200 to 261 kg (441 to 575 lb), and that of the females was 140 kg (310 lb) ranging from 116 to 164 kg (256 to 362 lb). [23] Two male tigers captured in Chitwan National Park exceeded weights of 270 kg (600 lb) and are the largest free ranging tigers reported to date. [24]

Three tigresses from the Bangladesh Sundarbans had a mean weight of 76.7 kg (169 lb). The oldest female weighed 75 kg (165 lb) and was in a relatively poor condition at the time of capture. Their skulls and body weights were distinct from those of tigers in other habitats, indicating that they may have adapted to the unique conditions of the mangrove habitat. Their small sizes are probably due to a combination of intense intraspecific competition and small size of prey available to tigers in the Sundarbans, compared to the larger deer and other prey available to tigers in other parts. [25]

The very large "Leeds Tiger" on display at Leeds City Museum, shot in 1860 near Mussoorie, had a body length of 371 cm (12 ft 2 in) at death. [26] Two tigers shot in Kumaon District and near Oude at the end of the 19th century allegedly measured more than 366 cm (12 ft). But at the time, sportsmen had not yet adopted a standard system of measurement; some measured 'between the pegs' while others measured 'over the curves'. [27] The greatest length of a tiger skull measured 413 mm (16.25 in) "over the bone"; this one was shot in the vicinity of Nagina in northern India. [28]

In the beginning of the 20th century, a male tiger was shot in central India with a head and body length of 221 cm (87 in) between pegs, a chest girth of 150 cm (59 in), a shoulder height of 109 cm (43 in) and a tail length of 81 cm (32 in), which was perhaps bitten off by a rival male. This specimen could not be weighed, but it was calculated to weigh no less than 272 kg (600 lb). [29] A male weighing 259 kg (570 lb) was shot in northern India in the 1930s. [28] A male tiger shot in Nepal weighed 320 kg (710 lb) and measured 328 cm (10 ft 9 in) 'over the curves'. [30] The heaviest wild tiger was possibly a huge male killed in 1967 at the foothills of the Himalayas. It weighed 388.7 kg (857 lb) after eating a buffalo calf; it measured 323 cm (127 in) in total length between pegs, and 338 cm (133 in) over curves. Without eating the calf beforehand, it would have likely weighed at least 324.3 kg (715 lb). This specimen is on exhibition in the Mammals Hall of the Smithsonian Institution. [31] In the Central Provinces of India, a male tiger shot weighed 317 kg (699 lb) and measured 3.02 m (9 ft 11 in). [32] Thus, the Bengal tiger rivals the Siberian tiger in average weight. [33]

Distribution and habitat

In 1982, a sub-fossil right middle phalanx was found in a prehistoric midden near Kuruwita in Sri Lanka, which is dated to about 16,500 ybp and tentatively considered to be of a tiger. Tigers appear to have arrived in Sri Lanka during a pluvial period, during which sea levels were depressed, evidently prior to the last glacial maximum about 20,000 years ago. [34] The tiger probably arrived too late in southern India to colonise Sri Lanka, which earlier had been connected to India by a land bridge. [14]

Results of a phylogeographic study using 134 samples from tigers across the global range suggest that the historical northeastern distribution limit of the Bengal tiger is the region in the Chittagong Hills and Brahmaputra River basin, bordering the historical range of the Indochinese tiger. [9] [35] In the Indian subcontinent, tigers inhabit tropical moist evergreen forests, tropical dry forests, tropical and subtropical moist deciduous forests, mangroves, subtropical and temperate upland forests, and alluvial grasslands. Latter habitat once covered a huge swath of grassland, riverine and moist semi-deciduous forests along the major river system of the Gangetic and Brahmaputra plains, but has now been largely converted to agricultural land or severely degraded. Today, the best examples of this habitat type are limited to a few blocks at the base of the outer foothills of the Himalayas including the Tiger Conservation Units (TCUs) Rajaji-Corbett, Bardia-Banke, and the transboundary TCUs Chitwan-Parsa-Valmiki, Dudhwa-Kailali and Shuklaphanta-Kishanpur. Tiger densities in these TCUs are high, in part because of the extraordinary biomass of ungulate prey. [36]

The tigers in the Sundarbans in India and Bangladesh are the only ones in the world inhabiting mangrove forests. [37] The population in the Indian Sundarbans was estimated as 86-90 individuals in 2018. [5]


Tigers in Bandipur National Park A mother and cub....JPG
Tigers in Bandipur National Park

In the 20th century, Indian censuses of wild tigers relied on the individual identification of footprints known as pug marks – a method that has been criticised as deficient and inaccurate. Camera traps are now being used in many sites. [38]

Good tiger habitats in subtropical and temperate forests include the Tiger Conservation Units (TCUs) Manas-Namdapha. TCUs in tropical dry forest include Hazaribag Wildlife Sanctuary, Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve, Kanha-Indravati corridor, Orissa dry forests, Panna National Park, Melghat Tiger Reserve and Ratapani Tiger Reserve. The TCUs in tropical moist deciduous forest are probably some of the most productive habitats for tigers and their prey, and include Kaziranga-Meghalaya, Kanha-Pench, Simlipal and Indravati Tiger Reserves. The TCUs in tropical moist evergreen forests represent the less common tiger habitats, being largely limited to the upland areas and wetter parts of the Western Ghats, and include the tiger reserves of Periyar, Kalakad-Mundathurai, Bandipur and Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary. [36]

During a tiger census in 2008, camera trap and sign surveys using GIS were employed to estimate site-specific densities of tiger, co-predators and prey. Based on the result of these surveys, the total tiger population was estimated at 1,411 individuals ranging from 1,165 to 1,657 adult and sub-adult tigers of more than 1.5 years of age. Across India, six landscape complexes were surveyed that host tigers and have the potential to be connected. These landscapes comprise the following: [39]

Ranthambore National Park hosts India's westernmost tiger population. [40] The Dangs' Forest in southeastern Gujarat is potential tiger habitat. [37]

As of 2014, the Indian tiger population was estimated to range over an area of 89,164 km2 (34,426 sq mi) and number 2,226 adult and subadult tigers older than one year. About 585 tigers were present in the Western Ghats, where Radhanagari and Sahyadri Tiger Reserves were newly established. The largest population resided in Corbett Tiger Reserve with about 215 tigers. The Central Indian tiger population is fragmented and depends on wildlife corridors that facilitate connectivity between protected areas. [41] By 2018, the population had increased to an estimated 2,603–3,346 individuals. [5]

In May 2018, a tiger was recorded in Sahyadri Tiger Reserve for the first time in eight years. [42] In February 2019, a tiger was sighted in Gujarat's Lunavada area in Mahisagar district, and found dead shortly afterwards. [43] Officials assumed that it originated in Ratapani Tiger Reserve and travelled about 300 km (190 mi) over two years. It probably died of starvation. In May 2019, camera traps recorded tigers in Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary and Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary and Mollem National Park, the first records in Goa since 2013. [44] [45]


In Bangladesh, tigers are now relegated to the forests of the Sundarbans and the Chittagong Hill Tracts. [46] The Chittagong forest is contiguous with tiger habitat in India and Myanmar, but the tiger population is of unknown status. [47]

As of 2004, population estimates in Bangladesh ranged from 200 to 419 individuals, most of them in the Sundarbans. [46] This region is the only mangrove habitat in this bioregion, where tigers survive, swimming between islands in the delta to hunt prey. [36] Bangladesh's Forest Department is raising mangrove plantations supplying forage for spotted deer. Since 2001, afforestation has continued on a small scale in the Sundarbans. [48] From October 2005 to January 2007, the first camera trap survey was conducted across six sites in the Bangladesh Sundarbans to estimate tiger population density. The average of these six sites provided an estimate of 3.7 tigers per 100 km2 (39 sq mi). Since the Bangladesh Sundarbans is an area of 5,770 km2 (2,230 sq mi), it was inferred that the total tiger population comprised approximately 200 individuals. [49] Home ranges of adult female tigers were recorded comprising between 12 and 14 km2 (4.6 and 5.4 sq mi), which would indicate an approximate carrying capacity of 150 adult females. [21] [50] The small home range of adult female tigers and consequent high density of tigers in this habitat type relative to other areas may be related to both the high density of prey and the small size of the Sundarban tigers. [21]

Since 2007, tiger monitoring surveys have been carried out every year by WildTeam in the Bangladesh Sundarbans to monitor changes in the Bangladesh tiger population and assess the effectiveness of conservation actions. This survey measures changes in the frequency of tiger track sets along the sides of tidal waterways as an index of relative tiger abundance across the Sundarbans landscape. [51] By 2009, the tiger population in the Bangladesh Sundarbans was estimated as 100–150 adult females or 335–500 tigers overall. Female home ranges, recorded using Global Positioning System collars, were some of the smallest recorded for tigers, indicating that the Bangladesh Sundarbans could have one of the highest densities and largest populations of tigers anywhere in the world. They are isolated from the next tiger population by a distance of up to 300 km (190 mi). Information is lacking on many aspects of Sundarbans tiger ecology, including relative abundance, population status, spatial dynamics, habitat selection, life history characteristics, taxonomy, genetics, and disease. There is also no monitoring program in place to track changes in the tiger population over time, and therefore no way of measuring the response of the population to conservation activities or threats. Most studies have focused on the tiger-human conflict in the area, but two studies in the Sundarbans East Wildlife sanctuary documented habitat-use patterns of tigers, and abundances of tiger prey, and another study investigated tiger parasite load. Some major threats to tigers have been identified. The tigers living in the Sundarbans are threatened by habitat destruction, prey depletion, highly aggressive and rampant intraspecific competition, tiger-human conflict, and direct tiger loss. [25]

By 2017, this population was estimated at 84–158 individuals. [52] A rising sea-level due to climate change is projected to cause a severe loss of suitable habitat for this population in the following decades, around 50% by 2050 and 100% by 2070. [53]


Tigers killed by King George V in Nepal in 1911 King George V Hunting in Nepal in 1911 (3).jpg
Tigers killed by King George V in Nepal in 1911

The tiger population in the Terai of Nepal is split into three isolated subpopulations that are separated by cultivation and densely settled habitat. The largest population lives in Chitwan National Park and in the adjacent Parsa National Park encompassing an area of 2,543 km2 (982 sq mi) of prime lowland forest. To the west, the Chitwan population is isolated from the one in Bardia National Park and adjacent unprotected habitat farther west, extending to within 15 km (9.3 mi) of the Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve, which harbours the smallest population. [54]

From February to June 2013, a camera trapping survey was carried out in the Terai Arc Landscape, across an area of 4,841 km2 (1,869 sq mi) in 14 districts. The country's tiger population was estimated at 163–235 breeding adults comprising 102–152 tigers in the Chitwan-Parsa protected areas, 48–62 in Bardia-Banke National Parks and 13–21 in Shuklaphanta National Park. [55] Between November 2017 and April 2018, the third nationwide survey for tiger and prey was conducted in the Terai Arc Landscape; the country's population was estimated at 220–274 tigers. [6]


In Bhutan, tigers have been documented in 17 of 18 districts. They inhabit the subtropical Himalayan foothills at an elevation of 200 m (660 ft) in the south to over 3,000 m (9,800 ft) in the temperate forests in the north. Their stronghold appears to be the country's central belt between the Mo River in the west and the Kulong River in the east ranging in elevation from 2,000 to 3,500 m (6,600 to 11,500 ft). [56] Royal Manas and Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Parks form the largest contiguous tiger conservation area in Bhutan representing subtropical to alpine habitat types. [57] In 2010, camera traps recorded a tiger pair at elevations of 3,000 to 4,100 m (9,800 to 13,500 ft). As of 2015, the tiger population in Bhutan was estimated at 89 to 124 individuals in a survey area of 28,225 km2 (10,898 sq mi). [58]

In 2008, a tiger was recorded at an elevation of 4,200 m (13,800 ft) in Jigme Dorji National Park, which is the highest elevation record of a tiger known to date. [59] In 2017, a tiger was recorded for the time in Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary. It probably used a wildlife corridor to reach northeastern Bhutan. [60]

Ecology and behaviour

T 17 (Panthera tigris) - Koshyk.jpg
A tigress having a bath in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan
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A tigress with her cubs in Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh
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Female cubs playing in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve

The basic social unit of the tiger is the elemental one of female and her offspring. Adult animals congregate only temporarily when special conditions permit, such as plenty supply of food. Otherwise, they lead solitary lives, hunting individually for the forest and grassland animals, upon which they prey. Resident adults of either sex maintain home ranges, confining their movements to definite habitats within which they satisfy their needs and those of their cubs, which includes prey, water and shelter. In this site, they also maintain contact with other tigers, especially those of the opposite sex. Those sharing the same ground are well aware of each other's movements and activities. [19] In Chitwan National Park, radio-collared subadult tigers started dispersing from their natal areas earliest at the age of 19 months. Four females stayed closer to their mother's home range than 10 males. Latter dispersed between 9.5 and 65.7 km (5.9 and 40.8 mi). None of them crossed open cultivated areas that were more than 10 km (6.2 mi) wide, but moved through prime alluvial and forested habitat. [61]

In the Panna Tiger Reserve an adult radio-collared male tiger moved 1.7 to 10.5 km (1.1 to 6.5 mi) between locations on successive days in winter, and 1 to 13.9 km (0.62 to 8.64 mi) in summer. His home range was about 200 km2 (77 sq mi) in summer and 110 km2 (42 sq mi) in winter. Included in his home range were the much smaller home ranges of two females, a tigress with cubs and a subadult tigress. They occupied home ranges of 16 to 31 km2 (6.2 to 12.0 sq mi). [62]

The home ranges occupied by adult male residents tend to be mutually exclusive, even though one of these residents may tolerate a transient or sub-adult male at least for a time. A male tiger keeps a large territory in order to include the home ranges of several females within its bounds, so that he may maintain mating rights with them. Spacing among females is less complete. Typically there is partial overlap with neighbouring female residents. They tend to have core areas, which are more exclusive, at least for most of the time. Home ranges of both males and females are not stable. The shift or alteration of a home range by one animal is correlated with a shift of another. Shifts from less suitable habitat to better ones are made by animals that are already resident. New animals become residents only as vacancies occur when a former resident moves out or dies. There are more places for resident females than for resident males. [19]

During seven years of camera trapping, tracking, and observational data in Chitwan National Park, six to nine breeding tigers, two to 16 non-breeding tigers, and six to 20 young tigers of less than one year of age were detected in the study area of 100 km2 (39 sq mi). One of the resident females left her territory to one of her female offspring and took over an adjoining area by displacing another female; and a displaced female managed to re-establish herself in a neighbouring territory made vacant by the death of the resident. Of 11 resident females, 7 were still alive at the end of the study period, two disappeared after losing their territories to rivals, and two died. The initial loss of two resident males and subsequent take over of their home ranges by new males caused social instability for two years. Of four resident males, one was still alive and three were displaced by rivals. Five litters of cubs were killed by infanticide, two litters died because they were too young to fend for themselves when their mothers died. One juvenile tiger was presumed dead after being photographed with severe injuries from a deer snare. The remaining young lived long enough to reach dispersal age, two of them becoming residents in the study area. [63]

Hunting and diet

A tiger attacking a Sambar deer in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve RANTHAMBORE TIGER RESERVE.jpg
A tiger attacking a Sambar deer in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve

The tiger is a carnivore. It prefers hunting large ungulates such as chital, sambar, gaur, and to a lesser extent also barasingha, water buffalo, nilgai, serow and takin. Among the medium-sized prey species it frequently kills wild boar, and occasionally hog deer, Indian muntjac and grey langur. Small prey species such as porcupines, hares and peafowl form a very small part in its diet. Because of the encroachment of humans into tiger habitat, it also preys on domestic livestock. [64] [65] [66] [67] [68]

Bengal tigers occasionally hunt and kill predators such as Indian leopard, Indian wolf, Indian jackal, fox, mugger crocodile, Asian black bear, sloth bear, and dhole. They genereally do not attack adult Indian elephant and Indian rhinoceros, but such extraordinarily rare events have been recorded. [2] In Kaziranga National Park, tigers killed 20 rhinoceros in 2007. [69] In 2011 and 2014, two instances were recorded of Bengal tigers killing adult elephants; one in Jim Corbett National Park on a 20-year-old elephant, and another on a 28-year-old sick elephant in Kaziranga National Park which was killed and eaten by several tigers at once. [70] In the Sundarbans, a king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) and an Indian cobra (Naja naja) were found in the stomachs of tigers. [3]

Results of scat analyses indicate that the tigers in Nagarahole National Park preferred prey weighing more than 176 kg (388 lb) and that on average tiger prey weighed 91.5 kg (202 lb). The prey species included chital, sambar, wild pig and gaur. Gaur remains were found in 44.8% of all tiger scat samples, sambar remains in 28.6%, wild pig remains in 14.3% and chital remains in 10.4% of all scat samples. [71] In Bandipur National Park, gaur and sambar together also constituted 73% of tiger diet. [65]

In most cases, tigers approach their victim from the side or behind from as close a distance as possible and grasp the prey's throat to kill it. Then they drag the carcass into cover, occasionally over several hundred metres, to consume it. The nature of the tiger's hunting method and prey availability results in a "feast or famine" feeding style: they often consume 18–40 kg (40–88 lb) of meat at one time. [2] If injured, old or weak, or regular prey species are becoming scarce, tigers also attack humans and become man-eaters. [72]

Reproduction and lifecycle

A male and female interact with each other in Karnataka Bengal tigers, Karnataka, India.jpg
A male and female interact with each other in Karnataka

The tiger in India has no definite mating and birth seasons. Most young are born in December and April. [29] Young have also been found in March, May, October and November. [73] In the 1960s, certain aspects of tiger behaviour at Kanha National Park indicated that the peak of sexual activity was from November to about February, with some mating probably occurring throughout the year. [74]

Males reach maturity at 4–5 years of age, and females at 3–4 years. A Bengal comes into heat at intervals of about 3–9 weeks, and is receptive for 3–6 days. After a gestation period of 104–106 days, 1–4 cubs are born in a shelter situated in tall grass, thick bush or in caves. Newborn cubs weigh 780 to 1,600 g (1.72 to 3.53 lb) and they have a thick woolly fur that is shed after 3.5–5 months. Their eyes and ears are closed. Their milk teeth start to erupt at about 2–3 weeks after birth, and are slowly replaced by permanent dentition from 8.5 to 9.5 weeks of age onwards. They suckle for 3–6 months, and begin to eat small amounts of solid food at about 2 months of age. At this time, they follow their mother on her hunting expeditions and begin to take part in hunting at 5–6 months of age. At the age of 2–3 years, they slowly start to separate from the family group and become transient, looking out for an area, where they can establish their own home range. Young males move further away from their native home range than young females. Once the family group has split, the mother comes into heat again. [2]


None of the Tiger Conservation Landscapes within the Bengal tiger range is large enough to support an effective population size of 250 individuals. Habitat losses and the extremely large-scale incidences of poaching are serious threats to the species' survival. [1]

The Forest Rights Act passed by the Indian government in 2006 grants some of India's most impoverished communities the right to own and live in the forests, which likely brings them into conflict with wildlife and under-resourced, under-trained, ill-equipped forest department staff. In the past, evidence showed that humans and tigers cannot co-exist. [75]


The most significant immediate threat to the existence of wild tiger populations is the illegal trade in poached skins and body parts between India, Nepal and China. The governments of these countries have failed to implement adequate enforcement response, and wildlife crime remained a low priority in terms of political commitment and investment for years. There are well-organised gangs of professional poachers, who move from place to place and set up camp in vulnerable areas. Skins are rough-cured in the field and handed over to dealers, who send them for further treatment to Indian tanning centres. Buyers choose the skins from dealers or tanneries and smuggle them through a complex interlinking network to markets outside India, mainly in China. Other factors contributing to their loss are urbanisation and revenge killing. Farmers blame tigers for killing cattle and shoot them. Their skins and body parts may however become a part of the illegal trade. [76] In Bangladesh, tigers are killed by professional poachers, local hunters, trappers, pirates and villagers. Each group of people has different motives for killing tigers, ranging from profit, excitement to safety concerns. All groups have access to the Illegal wildlife trade in body parts. [77] [78]

The illicit demand for bones and body parts from wild tigers for use in Traditional Chinese medicine is the reason for the unrelenting poaching pressure on tigers on the Indian subcontinent. For at least a thousand years, tiger bones have been an ingredient in traditional medicines that are prescribed as a muscle strengthener and treatment for rheumatism and body pain. [79]

Between 1994 and 2009, the Wildlife Protection Society of India has documented 893 cases of tigers killed in India, which is just a fraction of the actual poaching and trade in tiger parts during those years. [80] In 2004, all the tigers in India's Sariska Tiger Reserve were killed by poachers. [81] In 2007, police in Allahabad raided a meeting of suspected poachers, traders and couriers. One of the arrested persons was the biggest buyer of Indian tiger parts who sold them to Chinese buyers, using women from a nomadic tribe as couriers. [82] In 2009, none of the 24 tigers residing in the Panna Tiger Reserve were left because of excessive poaching. [83] In November 2011, two tigers were found dead in Maharashtra: a male tiger was trapped and killed in a wire snare; a tigress died of electrocution after chewing at an electric cable supplying power to a water pump; another dead tigress found in Kanha Tiger Reserve landscape was suspected to have been poisoned. [84] In 2021 Bangladeshi police arrested a poacher suspected of killing 70 Bengal tigers during a period of 20 years. [85]

Human–tiger conflict

The Indian subcontinent has served as a stage for intense human and tiger confrontations. The region affording habitat where tigers have achieved their highest densities is also one which has housed one of the most concentrated and rapidly expanding human populations. At the beginning of the 19th century tigers were so numerous it seemed to be a question as to whether man or tiger would survive. It became the official policy to encourage the killing of tigers as rapidly as possible, rewards being paid for their destruction in many localities. The United Provinces supported large numbers of tigers in the submontane Terai region, where man-eating had been uncommon. In the latter half of the 19th century, marauding tigers began to take a toll of human life. These animals were pushed into marginal habitat, where tigers had formerly not been known, or where they existed only in very low density, by an expanding population of more vigorous animals that occupied the prime habitat in the lowlands, where there was high prey density and good habitat for reproduction. The dispersers had nowhere else to go, since the prime habitat was bordered in the south by cultivation. They are thought to have followed back the herds of domestic livestock that wintered in the plains when they returned to the hills in the spring, and then being left without prey when the herds dispersed back to their respective villages. These tigers were the old, the young and the disabled. All suffered from some disability, mainly caused either by gunshot wounds or porcupine quills. [86]

In the Sundarbans, 10 out of 13-man-eaters recorded in the 1970s were males, and they accounted for 86% of the victims. These man-eaters have been grouped into the confirmed or dedicated ones who go hunting especially for human prey; and the opportunistic ones, who do not search for humans but will, if they encounter a man, attack, kill and devour him. In areas where opportunistic man-eaters were found, the killing of humans was correlated with their availability, most victims being claimed during the honey gathering season. [87] Tigers in the Sunderbans presumably attacked humans who entered their territories in search of wood, honey or fish, thus causing them to defend their territories. The number of tiger attacks on humans may be higher outside suitable areas for tigers, where numerous humans are present but which contain little wild prey for tigers. [88]

In Nepal, the incidence of man-eating tigers has been only sporadic. In Chitwan National Park no cases were recorded before 1980. In the following few years, 13 people have been killed and eaten in the park and its environs. In the majority of cases, man-eating appeared to have been related to an intra-specific competition among male tigers. [86]

In December 2012, a tiger was shot by the Kerala Forest Department on a coffee plantation on the fringes of the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. Chief Wildlife Warden of Kerala ordered the hunt for the animal after mass protests erupted as the tiger had been carrying away livestock. The Forest Department had constituted a special task force to capture the animal with the assistance of a 10-member Special Tiger Protection Force and two trained elephants from the Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka. [89] [90]

Conservation efforts

An area of special interest lies in the "Terai Arc Landscape" in the Himalayan foothills of northern India and southern Nepal, where 11 protected areas composed of dry forest foothills and tall-grass savannas harbour tigers in a 49,000 square kilometres (19,000 sq mi) landscape. The goals are to manage tigers as a single metapopulation, the dispersal of which between core refuges can help maintain genetic, demographic, and ecological integrity, and to ensure that species and habitat conservation becomes mainstreamed into the rural development agenda. In Nepal a community-based tourism model has been developed with a strong emphasis on sharing benefits with local people and on the regeneration of degraded forests. The approach has been successful in reducing poaching, restoring habitats, and creating a local constituency for conservation. [91]

WWF partnered with Leonardo DiCaprio to form a global campaign, "Save Tigers Now", with the ambitious goal of building political, financial and public support to double the wild tiger population by 2022. [92] Save Tigers Now started its campaign in 12 different WWF Tiger priority landscapes, since May 2010. [93]

In India

Tigers at Indira Gandhi Zoological Park, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh Great Indian Tiger 3 at Indira Gandhi Zoological Park, Visakhapatnam.jpg
Tigers at Indira Gandhi Zoological Park, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh

In 1973, Project Tiger was launched aiming at ensuring a viable tiger population in the country and preserving areas of biological importance as a natural heritage for the people. The project's task force visualised these tiger reserves as breeding nuclei, from which surplus animals would disperse to adjacent forests. The selection of areas for the reserves represented as close as possible the diversity of ecosystems across the tiger's distribution in the country. Funds and commitment were mustered to support the intensive program of habitat protection and rehabilitation under the project. By the late 1980s, the initial nine reserves covering an area of 9,115 square kilometres (3,519 sq mi) had been increased to 15 reserves covering an area of 24,700 square kilometres (9,500 sq mi). More than 1100 tigers were estimated to inhabit the reserves by 1984. [94] [95]

Through this initiative the population decline was reversed initially, but 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. [96]

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. [97]

Following the revelation that only 1,411 Bengal tigers existed in the wild in India, down from 3,600 in 2003, the Indian government set up eight new tiger reserves. [98] 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 minimise human-tiger interaction. [99] Indian tiger scientists have called for use of technology in the conservation efforts. [100]

In January 2008, the Government of India launched a dedicated anti-poaching force composed of experts from Indian police, forest officials and various other environmental agencies. [101] Ranthambore National Park is often cited as a major success by Indian officials against poaching. [102]

Kuno-Palpur in Madhya Pradesh was supposed receive Asiatic lions from Gujarat. Since no lion has been transferred from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh so far, it may be used as a sanctuary for the tiger instead. [103] [104]

In captivity

Bengal tigers have been captive bred since 1880 and widely crossed with tigers from other range countries. [105]

In July 1976, Billy Arjan Singh acquired a hand-reared tigress from Twycross Zoo in the United Kingdom, and reintroduced her to the wild in Dudhwa National Park with the permission of India's then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. [106] In the 1990s, some tigers from this area were observed to have the typical appearance of Siberian tigers, namely a large head, pale fur, white complexion, and wide stripes, and were suspected to be Siberian–Bengal tiger hybrids. Tiger hair samples from the national park were analysed using mitochondrial sequence analysis. Results revealed that the tigers in question had a Bengal tiger mitochondrial haplotype indicating that their mother was an Bengal tiger. [107] Skin, hair and blood samples from 71 tigers collected in Indian zoos, in the Indian Museum, Kolkata and including two samples from Dudhwa National Park were used for a microsatellite analysis that revealed that two tigers had alleles in two loci contributed by Bengal and Siberian tigers. [108] However, samples of two hybrid specimens constituted a too small sample base to conclusively assume that Tara was the source of the Siberian tiger genes. [109]

Indian zoos have bred tigers for the first time at the Alipore Zoo in Kolkata. The 1997 International Tiger Studbook lists the global captive population of Bengal tigers at 210 individuals that are all kept in Indian zoos, except for one female in North America. Completion of the Indian Bengal Tiger Studbook is a necessary prerequisite to establishing a captive management program for tigers in India. [110]

In Bangladesh

WildTeam is working with local communities and the Bangladesh Forest Department to reduce human-tiger conflict in the Bangladesh Sundarbans. For over 100 years people, tigers, and livestock have been injured and killed in the conflict; in recent decades up to 50 people, 80 livestock, and 3 tigers have been killed in a year. Now, through WildTeam's work, there is a boat-based Tiger Response team that provides first aid, transport, and body retrieval support for people being killed in the forest by tigers. WildTeam has also set up 49 volunteer Village Response Teams that are trained to save tigers that have strayed into the village areas and would be otherwise killed. These village teams are made up of over 350 volunteers, who are also now supporting anti-poaching work and conservation education/awareness activities. WildTeam also works to empower local communities to access the government funds for compensating the loss/injury of livestock and people from the conflict. To monitor the conflict and assess the effectiveness of actions, WildTeam have also set up a human-tiger conflict data collection and reporting system.

In Nepal

The government aims at doubling the country's tiger population by 2022. In May 2010, Banke National Park was established with an area of 550 km2 (210 sq mi). [111]

"Re-wilding" project in South Africa

In 2000, the Bengal tiger re-wilding project Tiger Canyons was started by John Varty, who together with the zoologist Dave Salmoni trained captive-bred tiger cubs how to stalk, hunt, associate hunting with food and regain their predatory instincts. They claimed that once the tigers proved that they can sustain themselves in the wild, they would be released into a free-range sanctuary of South Africa to fend for themselves. [112]

The project has received controversy after accusations by their investors and conservationists of manipulating the behaviour of the tigers for the purpose of a film production, Living with Tigers , with the tigers believed to be unable to hunt. [113] [114] Stuart Bray, who had originally invested a large sum of money in the project, claimed that he and his wife, Li Quan, watched the film crew "[chase] the prey up against the fence and into the path of the tigers just for the sake of dramatic footage." [113] [114]

The four tigers involved in this project have been confirmed to be crossbred Siberian–Bengal tigers, which should neither be used for breeding nor being released into the Karoo. Tigers that are not genetically pure will not be able to participate in the tiger Species Survival Plan, as they are not used for breeding, and are not allowed to be released into the wild. [115]

In culture

Uttama coin.png
An early silver coin of Uththama Chola found in Sri Lanka showing the tiger emblem of the Cholas. [116] [117]
Shiva Pashupati.jpg
The Pashupati seal with tiger to right of the seated divine figure Pashupati
1 Indian rupee coin, 1947.jpg
Bengal tiger on 1947 Indian rupee

The tiger is one of the animals displayed on the Pashupati seal of the Indus Valley Civilisation. The tiger crest is the emblem on the Chola coins. The seals of several Chola copper coins show the tiger, the Pandya emblem fish and the Chera emblem bow, indicating that the Cholas had achieved political supremacy over the latter two dynasties. Gold coins found in Kavilayadavalli in the Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh have motifs of the tiger, bow and some indistinct marks. [118]

Today, the tiger is the national animal of India. Bangladeshi banknotes feature a tiger. The political party Muslim League of Pakistan uses the tiger as its election symbol. [119] Tipu Sultan, who ruled Mysore in late 18th-century India, was also a great admirer of the animal. The famed 18th-century automaton, Tipu's Tiger was also created for him. [120] The tiger was the dynastic symbol of this dynasty. [121] The iconography persisted and during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, Punch ran a political cartoon showing the Indian rebels as a tiger, attacking a victim, being defeated by the British forces shown by the larger figure of a lion. [122]

Several people were nicknamed Tiger or Bengal Tiger. Bengali revolutionary Jatindranath Mukherjee was called Bagha Jatin (Bengali for Tiger Jatin). Educator Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee was often called the "Tiger of Bengal".

The Bengal tiger has been used as a logo and a nickname for famous personalities. Some of them are mentioned below:

In arts

The British Lion's Vengeance on the Bengal Tiger, Punch cartoon from 1857 The British Lion's Vengeance on the Bengal Tiger.jpg
The British Lion's Vengeance on the Bengal Tiger, Punch cartoon from 1857

Notable individuals

Notable Bengal tigers include the man-eating Tigers of Chowgarh, Chuka man-eating tiger, the Bachelor of Powalgarh and Thak man-eater, [131] Tiger of Segur, Tiger of Mundachipallam, and the Wily Tiger of Mundachipallam. [132]

Tiger versus lion

Apart from the above-mentioned uses of the Bengal tiger in culture, the fight between a tiger and a lion has, for a long time, been a popular topic of discussion by hunters, naturalists, artists, and poets, and continue to inspire the popular imagination to the present-day. [133] [134] There have been historical cases of fights between Bengal tigers and lions in captivity. [12] [135] [136]

See also

Related Research Articles

Tiger Largest species of the cat family

The tiger is the largest living cat species and a member of the genus Panthera. It is most recognisable for its dark vertical stripes on orange fur with a white underside. It is an apex predator, primarily preying on ungulates such as deer and wild boar. It is territorial and generally a solitary but social predator, requiring large contiguous areas of habitat, which support its requirements for prey and rearing of its offspring. Tiger cubs stay with their mother for about two years, then become independent and leave their mother's home range to establish their own.

Leopard Large cat native to Africa and Asia

The leopard is one of the five extant species in the genus Panthera, a member of the cat family, Felidae. It occurs in a wide range in sub-Saharan Africa, in some parts of Western and Central Asia, Southern Russia, and on the Indian subcontinent to Southeast and East Asia. It is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List because leopard populations are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, and are declining in large parts of the global range. The leopard is considered locally extinct in Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Jordan, Morocco, Togo, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Kuwait, Syria, Libya, Tunisia and most likely in North Korea, Gambia, Laos, Lesotho, Tajikistan, Vietnam and Israel. Contemporary records suggest that the leopard occurs in only 25% of its historical global range.

Siberian tiger Tiger population in Northeast Asia

The Siberian tiger is a tiger from a specific population of the Panthera tigris tigris subspecies native to the Russian Far East, Northeast China, and possibly North Korea. It once ranged throughout the Korean Peninsula, north China, and eastern Mongolia. The population currently inhabits mainly the Sikhote-Alin mountain region in southwest Primorye Province in the Russian Far East. In 2005, there were 331–393 adult and subadult Siberian tigers in this region, with a breeding adult population of about 250 individuals. The population had been stable for more than a decade because of intensive conservation efforts, but partial surveys conducted after 2005 indicate that the Russian tiger population was declining. An initial census held in 2015 indicated that the Siberian tiger population had increased to 480–540 individuals in the Russian Far East, including 100 cubs. This was followed up by a more detailed census which revealed there was a total population of 562 wild Siberian tigers in Russia. As of 2014, about 35 individuals were estimated to range in the international border area between Russia and China.

Sundarbans National Park National park and nature reserve in West Bengal, India

The Sundarbans National Park is a national park, tiger reserve, and biosphere reserve in West Bengal, India. It is part of the Sundarbans on the Ganges Delta, and adjacent to the Sundarban Reserve Forest in Bangladesh. The delta is densely covered by mangrove forests, and is one of the largest reserves for the Bengal tiger. It is also home to a variety of bird, reptile and invertebrate species, including the salt-water crocodile. The present Sundarban National Park was declared as the core area of Sundarban Tiger Reserve in 1973 and a wildlife sanctuary in 1977. On 4 May 1984 it was declared a national park. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site inscribed in 1987, and it has been designated as a Ramsar site since 2019. It is considered as a World Network of Biosphere Reserve from 1989.

Indochinese tiger Tiger population in Southeast Asia

The Indochinese tiger is a tiger from a specific population of the Panthera tigris tigris subspecies that is native to Southeast Asia. This population occurs in Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos. It has been listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List since 2008, as the population seriously declined and approaches the threshold for critically endangered. In 2011, the population was thought to comprise 342 individuals, including 85 in Myanmar and 20 in Vietnam, with the largest population unit surviving in Thailand estimated at 189 to 252 individuals during 2009 to 2014.

Sumatran tiger Tiger subspecies endemic to Sumatra

The Sumatran tiger is a population of Panthera tigris sondaica on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. This population was listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List in 2008, as it was estimated at 441 to 679 individuals, with no subpopulation larger than 50 individuals and a declining trend.

Sundarbans Reserved Forest in Bengal

Sundarbans is a mangrove area in the delta formed by the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers in the Bay of Bengal. It spans from the Hooghly River in India's state of West Bengal to the Baleswar River in Bangladesh's division of Khulna. It comprises closed and open mangrove forests, land used for agricultural purpose, mudflats and barren land, and is intersected by multiple tidal streams and channels. Four protected areas in the Sundarbans are enlisted as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, viz. Sundarbans National Park, Sundarbans West, Sundarbans South and Sundarbans East Wildlife Sanctuaries.

Asiatic lion Lion population in India

The Asiatic lion is a Panthera leo leo population surviving today only in India. Since the turn of the 20th century, its range is restricted to Gir National Park and the surrounding areas in the Indian state of Gujarat. Historically, it inhabited much of the Middle East to northern India.

South China tiger Subspecies of carnivore

The South China tiger is a tiger from a specific population of the Panthera tigris tigris subspecies that is native to southern China. The population mainly inhabited the Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan and Jiangxi provinces. It has been listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List since 1996 and is possibly extinct in the wild since no wild individual has been recorded since the late 1980s. In the late 1990s, continued survival was considered unlikely because of low prey density, widespread habitat degradation and fragmentation, and other human pressures. In the fur trade, it used to be called Amoy tiger.

Khathiar-Gir dry deciduous forests

The Khathiar-Gir dry deciduous forests is a mostly arid ecoregion in northwestern India that stretches over 103,100 sq mi (267,000 km2) across Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The dry deciduous forests in the region are dominated by teak, and thorny trees and scrub in drier areas.

Javan tiger Extinct tiger population in Sunda Island Java

The Javan tiger was a Panthera tigris sondaica population native to the Indonesian island of Java until the mid-1970s. It was hunted to extinction, and its natural habitat converted for agricultural land use and infrastructure. It was one of the three tiger populations in the Sunda Islands.

Bali tiger Extinct tiger population in Sunda Island Bali

The Bali tiger was a Panthera tigris sondaica population on the Indonesian island of Bali which has been extinct since the 1950s.

Malayan tiger Tiger population in Malayan Peninsula

The Malayan tiger is a tiger from a specific population of the Panthera tigris tigris subspecies that is native to Peninsular Malaysia. This population inhabits the southern and central parts of the Malay Peninsula and has been classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List since 2015. The population was estimated at 250 to 340 adult individuals in 2013 and likely comprises less than 200 mature breeding individuals with a declining trend.

The Sundarban Tiger project is a Bangladesh Forest Department initiative that effectively started its field activities in February 2005. The idea for this 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 one of the largest populations of wild tigers in the world. As such, there was an urgent need to start measures that would ensure the protection of this precious area.

Indian leopard Leopard subspecies

The Indian leopard is a leopard subspecies widely distributed on the Indian subcontinent. The species Panthera pardus is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List because populations have declined following habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching for the illegal trade of skins and body parts, and persecution due to conflict situations. The Indian leopard is one of the big cats occurring on the Indian subcontinent, apart from the Asiatic lion, Bengal tiger, snow leopard and clouded leopard. In 2014, a national census of leopards around tiger habitats was carried out in India except the northeast. 7,910 individuals were estimated in surveyed areas and a national total of 12,000-14,000 speculated.

Wildlife of India Wildlife of India

India is home to a large variety of wildlife. It is a biodiversity hotspot with its various ecosystems ranging from the Himalayas in the north to the evergreen rain forests in the south, the desert sands of the west to the marshy mangroves of the east. India lies within the Indomalayan realm and is the home to about 7.6% of mammal, 14.7% of amphibian, 6% of bird, 6.2% of reptilian, and 6.0% of flowering plant species. India's forest lands nurture about 500 species of mammals and 2000+ bird species.

Tiger conservation

The tiger is an iconic species. Tiger conservation attempts to prevent the animal from becoming extinct and preserving its natural habitat. This is one of the main objectives of the international animal conservation community. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has played a crucial role in improving international efforts for tiger conservation.

Snow leopard Species of large felid (Panthera uncia)

The snow leopard, also known as the ounce, is a felid in the genus Panthera native to the mountain ranges of Central and South Asia. It is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List because the global population is estimated to number fewer than 10,000 mature individuals and is expected to decline about 10% by 2040. It is threatened by poaching and habitat destruction following infrastructural developments. It inhabits alpine and subalpine zones at elevations from 3,000 to 4,500 m, ranging from eastern Afghanistan, the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau, to southern Siberia, Mongolia and western China. In the northern part of its range, it also lives at lower elevations.

Sundarbans East Wildlife Sanctuary

Sundarbans East Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected forest in Bangladesh, extends over an area of 31,227 ha. of mangrove forest. It was established in 1977 under the Bangladesh Wildlife (Preservation) (Amendment) Act, 1974, having previously been a forest reserve. It is the most fertile of the three, non-adjoining wildlife sanctuaries established in the Sundarbans at that time, the others being the Sundarbans West Wildlife Sanctuary and the Sundarbans South Wildlife Sanctuary. The dominant mangrove species is "sundri" from which the Sundarbans region gets its name.


WildTeam is an international conservation organisation which began in 2003 as The Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh and the Sundarbans tiger project. The Sundarbans Tiger project started out as a Bangladesh Forest Department and University of Minnesota research initiative; focusing on the ecology and conservation of tigers in the Bangladesh Sundarbans. Between 2003 and 2008, the Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh carried out research and education work in relation to Bengal tiger, Hoolock gibbon, Asian elephant, and Asian black bear.


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