Tiger FAQ


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Frequently Asked Questions - Tiger

Where are tigers found in the wild?

In the wild, tigers are found in India, Nepal, China, Russia, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand and Sumatra. Eight sub-species of tiger existed in the past out of which three have been extinct for many years. The five surviving sub species of tiger are the Indian Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) found in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar; Siberian or Amur Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) found in far east Russia ; Sumatran Tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) found in Indonesian island of Sumatra; South China Tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) found in China and Indo-Chinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti) mainly found in Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia but are also found in Myanmar, Southern China, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. The population found in Peninsular Malaysia has been given a status of separate sub species Panthera tigris.jacksoni.

In the last century, three sub species of tigers have already become extinct: Bali Tiger (Panthera tigris balica) that was found in Indonesian island of Bali, Javan Tiger (Panthera tigris sondaicus) that was found in Indonesian island of Java and Caspian Tiger (Panthera tigris virgata) that was found in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Caucasus, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Recent reports indicate that South China tiger is also extinct in the wild.


What is an Indian tiger?

The Indian tiger has an orange coat patterned with broad black stripes. It has black ears, each with a winking white spot on the back, powerful forepaws, and a long banded tail. The total length of the tiger from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail is between 2.6 to 3 meters and it weighs anywhere between 135-230 kgs. The average life span of a tiger in the wild is about 14 to 16 years. The diet of an Indian tiger mainly consists of large wild ungulates such as chital (Axis axis), sambar (Cervus unicolor), barasingha (Cervus duvacelii), nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus) and gaur (Bos gaurus) and other animals such as the wild pig (Sus scrofa) and Nilgiri tahr (Hemitragus hylocrius). It is an opportunistic feeder and can also kill large prey such as elephant calves (Elephas maximus), gaur (Bos gaurus) and wild buffalo (Bubalus arnee) as well as smaller prey such as peafowl, jungle fowl and hare.

Due to their large body size tigers are not good tree climbers like leopards. They can only climb along large leaning trees. But tigers are excellent swimmers and love water.


Where do you find tigers in India?
Tigers are found in a variety of habitats, including tropical and sub tropical forests, evergreen forests, mangrove swamps and grasslands. In India, tigers are found all across the country in 19 states. For the better management of tiger habitats, forests have been demarcated as Tiger reserves, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries. There are 29 Tiger Reserves in our country today. For more details about the tiger reserves visit www.projecttiger.nic.in 

What are white tigers?
White tigers are not a separate sub-species, but are white in color due to an expression of recessive genes. Interestingly, the white tigers are found only among the Indian tigers and can only be seen only in captivity now. The last white tiger reported in the wild was captured in the forests of Rewa in the state of Madhya Pradesh. The white tigers found in the zoos today are most likely descendants of this one tiger that was caught from the wild in Madhya Pradesh and later bred in captivity. White tigers have pink noses, white-to-cream coloured fur, and black, grey or chocolate-coloured stripes. Their eyes are usually blue, but may be green or amber


Are all tigers man-eaters?
Tigers, like all other wild animals, tend to avoid people, but can attack in defense if they are taken by surprise or if they are with their young ones. Such incidences may sometimes lead to humans being mauled or killed by chance. Occasionally, an aged, sick or injured tiger that is unable to hunt its natural prey may also kill a human being and feed on the body. A few of such tigers may resort to killing human beings intermittently since man is an easy prey. But not all aged, sick or injured tigers become man-eaters.

A healthy cub may also acquire man-eating skills from his/her mother. It is very difficult to state the exact reasons why a tiger turns man-eaters but the good thing is that such cases are extremely rare.

 

What is the significance of tigers in India?
Tigers occupy an important place in the Indian culture. Since ages, it has been the symbol of magnificence, power, beauty and fierceness and has been associated with bravery and valor. The tiger also has a significant place in Hindu mythology as the vehicle of Goddess Durga. In the olden times, hunting of tigers was considered to be one of the highest acts of bravery by kings and noblemen.

The tiger is a unique animal which plays a pivotal role in the health and diversity of an ecosystem. It is a top predator and is at the apex of the food chain. Therefore the presence of tigers in the forest is an indicator of the well being of the ecosystem. The extinction of this top predator is an indication that its ecosystem is not sufficiently protected. Tigers and high intensity biotic disturbances such as poaching and stealing of kills do not go together. If the tigers in the wild have to survive, it is imperative that other species of wild animals that are directly or indirectly a part of the food chain must also thrive. Therefore, the survival of the tiger is an important yardstick to measure the existence of a healthy forest ecosystem.

 

Is tiger endangered?
Yes, tigers in the wild are facing severe threats. There has been steep decline in the tiger population all across the world. At the beginning of the last century, it is believed that worldwide, there were about a 100,000 tigers in the wild with about 40,000 in India. This has declined to a few thousands today.

The decline in the tiger population in India can be attributed to many factors. The major reason is the growth in human population. Soon after independence large chunks of prime tiger habitats were lost to agriculture and developmental activities. In India, till the middle of the last century people killed tigers in the name of sport. Tiger hunting was officially banned only after the enactment of the Wildlife (Protection) Act in 1972. Today increasing biotic disturbances, uncontrolled poaching of prey, urbanization, mining and quarrying; and poaching of tiger for its body parts gravely threaten the future of the tiger. Bones and other body parts of the tigers are used in Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM) and their skins are used for making Chubas( the traditional robe worn by the Tibetans). It is this illegal market for tiger skins and parts in China and Tibet that remains as one of the most serious threat to wild tiger populations in India.


What are the Indian and international laws that protect tigers?

Indian Tiger is an endangered animal and is listed in the Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. This act gives it protection against hunting/poaching and trade for skins, bones and body parts. Any person who commits such an offence is punishable with an imprisonment of not less than three years extending up to seven years along with a fine of not less than fifty thousand rupees which may extend up to two lakh rupees. In the event of a second or subsequent conviction he can receive imprisonment for a term of not less than seven years and a fine which shall be not less than five lakh rupees and can vary up to a maximum of fifty lakh rupees

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) presently ratified by over 160 countries, makes international trade in tiger parts illegal. India has been a signatory of this convention since the year 1975.


Who are the major stakeholders in tiger conservation in India today?
The major stakeholders in tiger conservation in India are Government of India (Ministry of Environment and Forest), State Forest Departments, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (formerly known as the Project Tiger) and local communities. Tourism Departments, media and NGOs such as WWF-India and several other organizations also support tiger conservation initiatives.

What is tiger census?

The process of estimating the number of tigers in a given area is called ‘Tiger census’. It is conducted from time to time to know the current tiger populations. Besides collecting data on tiger numbers the method also helps to gather information on sex, age and the density of the tiger populations. 

What are the methods to estimate tiger populations?
Many different methods are used to estimate the number of tigers. The most commonly used technique in the past was ‘Pugmark Census Technique’. In this method the imprints of the pugmark of the tiger were recorded and used as a basis for identification of individuals. Now it is largely used as one of the indices of tiger occurrence and relative abundance. Other methods used to count the number of tigers are: the camera trapping in which the photograph of the tiger is taken and individuals are differentiated on the basis of the stripes on the body and DNA fingerprinting that is the latest technique in which tigers are identified from their scats. The latter two techniques, although expensive, are slowly gaining ground. The latest tiger population estimation was conducted during the year 2005-06.

What is the nature of Human-Wildlife conflict in India?
For centuries humans and wild animals have co-existed in India. This is mainly because the human populations were much lower and the forest areas were large.

However, over the past few decades, the human population has grown by manifolds thereby creating great pressure on forest resources. Large areas on which the forests were vast and undisturbed have given way to human habitations and settlements. Grazing by domestic cattle in forest areas has resulted in disease out-breaks among wild herbivores, and also reduced availability of fodder forcing the wild herbivores to crop depredation in areas adjacent to forests. In retaliation villagers sometimes resort to stealing power from power lines and setting up live electric fence to kill crop raiders. Due to lack of sufficient wild prey base, carnivores such as tigers, leopards and dholes (wild dog) take to killing of domestic cattle for survival. Villagers may again retaliate by poisoning these wild animals. Illegal activities such as stealing of animals killed by tigers lead to injury and death of human beings. Due to lack of prey in the forests leopards frequent villages looking for food and in the process humans, particularly children and women get killed.

Does tiger farming increase tiger populations in the wild?
No, captive breeding of tiger or tiger farming does not help to increase tiger populations in the wild. If this was true then those countries indulging in tiger farming would boast a healthy population of tigers in the wild and this hasn’t happened so far.

Tigers in the wild breed very well provided they have a good habitat and adequate protection. Problems related to habitat, prey base and protection can not be solved by captive breeding. Furthermore rehabilitation of a captive bred tiger in the wild has been unsuccessful. This is because tigers in the wild learn hunting by a process of close association with the mother, a situation which cannot be replicated in captivity. Therefore tiger farming is only a way to breed tigers for their skin and derivatives to meet market demands and cannot be seen as a conservation tool.

Moreover, if the trade in tiger body part is legalized in the name of tiger farming, eventually the tigers in the wild would be poached. Body part of wild tigers would always be preferred much more than that of farm-bred tigers. It will also be far more profitable to poach a tiger in the wild than to raise it in a farm which would cost about US$ 1500/year. The concept of farming the tigers for commercial trade should be abandoned for ever. Human ailments can be treated and cured with drugs other than the medicines prepared with tiger body parts.


Where do we stand in Tiger Conservation today?
India was the first country in the world to champion the cause of conservation of the tiger and its natural habitats. Project Tiger, launched in 1973, was one of the largest conservation initiatives of its kind globally. After a great success initially, it has had mixed results. Focus has been sharpened on tiger conservation issues across the country and many prime tiger habitats were designated as Tiger Reserves. Conservation initiatives in many areas have led to successful amelioration of habitats and a healthy tiger population while in other areas; the results have not been so effective. Threats to tiger conservation such as destruction and fragmentation of habitats, human-tiger conflict and poaching continue to remain.


What does the future hold for Indian tigers?
Tiger conservation continues to face increasing challenges on the ground. However, it is still not too late. Through scientific, planned management interventions such as restoration of habitat and prey base, curbing human-tiger conflict and illegal wildlife trade, we can help conserve viable tiger populations in the wild.

Source: WWF India