Most people are frightened of tigers. In literature too tigers are depicted as a powerful and dreadful beast. Common misconception is that it is very dangerous and it attacks humans. Misinformation and lack of knowledge about tigers is common resulting in this fright.
Certain features of the tiger are helpful in hunting. Their claws remain embedded in the paw while walking. That helps in their smooth movement and the claws are not injured. While attacking, the claws project out like strong hooks and injure the prey and hold it firmly.
Simultaneously, the tiger uses its jaw to hold the prey using long and pointed canines. This renders the prey immobile and helpless.
Tigers can see easily during the night.
Their retina reflects the light inside facilitating to see better. Their night vision is six times better than human.
Tiger's pupils are round and the iris is yellow in colour. Only in white tiger it is blue. Tigers' body hairs are sensitive, helping to feel the surrounding even while moving. The two legs of each side move almost together resulting in gliding movement. Hence, the surrounding is not disturbed and almost no sound is produced. The prey is unable to detect the presence of the tiger in its vicinity and gets caught. Another feature of the tiger is that it can balance its body well while running at full speed. Its tail is moved to balance the body weight like the rope walkers carrying a rod in their hand. Also, the tail is used to transmit signals among each other.
Tiger is large and it needs about 15 to 18 kg of meat/day. Important fact is that chances of the tiger being successful is only 5 to 10%; i.e., in 10 to 20 attempts, the tiger succeeds only once. Obviously, the tiger cannot afford to allow the prey to run away once it is able to catch. It uses all possible means to immobilize the prey. Life is more difficult for a female tigress, if it has cubs. It has to find food for herself and the cubs. Also, it cannot move freely. Cubs are small (less than 8oog to little more than 1600g) and blind at birth. They are totally dependent on the mother. So, the mother's movements are restricted. Obviously it becomes more ferocious when it finds a prey.
Tigers commonly prey upon different types of deer and wild boar. They kill young elephant or young rhino as well.
Bisons and wild buffaloes are quite bigand not easy to attack and immobilize.
Occasionally, under compulsion, tigers prey upon monkeys, reptiles, birds and fishes. Tigers and tigresses hunt alone.
But tigresses with cubs hunt in groups, which makes their task easv and the cubs get better protection. A tiger/tigress survives well if it kills a large animal in eight to ten days. But a tigress with two dependent cubs has to kill large animals every five to six davs.
Generally, tigers search for prey before the sunset. Often it keeps roaming the entire night and walk up to 25km in search of prey. In dense forests the days are cool. Tigers hunt even during the daytime. During the hot days they take rest in the shade of trees or in some secluded area. They may enter water bodies and remain there till the temperature comes down.
Tigers are the largest animal in the Cat family, weighing up to 300kg. But all varieties are not that big. Siberian tigers are the largest. Earlier, there were eight subspecies of tiger. Now five survive; three-Bali tiger, Javan tiger, and Caspian tiger-are extinct. The South China tiger is critically endangered since 1996 and possibly extinct in the wild. Last confirmed sighting was in the 19905.
Till about 1900 and 1920 there were about 100,000 tigers in the world. By 1970 only about 5000 tigers were left. By 1986, it slightly improved to about 7700 to 7800. But again the number declined.
By the end of 20th century, only 5000 to 7500 tigers could be estimated.Hence, tiger is in the Endangered category of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources). According to WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), by January, 2021 there were only 3890 tigers in the wild.
Historically, tigers were present from Turkey to the eastern boundary of the erstwhile Soviet Union. In South East Asia it was present in Malaysia, Singapore, Sumatra, Java, and Bali.
Now it is present only from India to Vietnam and in Sumatran region of Indonesia and the eastern boundary of Russia. There are some evidences that tigers are present in North Korea and in China. However, IUCN has confirmed its presence in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Sumatra, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam. India has the largest population. According to the latest estimate (census of 2018-19), population of tigers in India is 2967, i.e., more than 76% of the world population.
During the last century, tiger population reduced drastically. Reasons are obvious. Till recently tigers were hunted freely. Another reason is that forests have been destroyed/degraded.
In 1900 globally, the forest cover was around 4,128 to 5,500 million ha. By 2021 it came down to about 4000 million ha. Shrinking forests denied suitable habitats for the tigers and also deprived them of their prey. Also, water should be available round the year. Hunting area of a tiger may extend to about 700 km2. If the tiger gets its prey easily, the hunting area may restrict to about 150 km2. When the tigers become weak or they stray outside the forests towards human habitations, they try to prey upon domestic animals and cattle. If they encounter humans, they may attack, but only under compulsion. Otherwise, tigers are shy animals and they avoid approaching humans.
Poaching, i.e., illegal hunting is another factor in reducing tiger populations. People hunted tigers, cheetahs, leopards etc. for their skin, and the head were kept as trophies.
If the tiger is not hungry, it does not bother at all about humans. There have been instances of tigers entering homes during night and sleeping close to the humans. Only when the tigers are deprived of their abode and prey, they come out of the forest and approach human habitations. That leads to human-tiger conflicts and people consider them as enemy. At times tigers turn man-eaters. Then it becomes essential to capture those tigers and keep them in captivity or to kill them. Most of the researchers say that the tigers turn man-eaters as sufficient numbers of prey are not available. Also, villagers enter the forest area frequently to collect timber, fuel-wood and honey etc. In the process the tigers become accustomed to human presence and they become bold.
Conservation and Protection
Tiger is a protected species wherever present. It was expected that tigers would survive with these measures. But illegal trade of skin and body parts of tigers, leopards, cheetahs, etc. has made them vulnerable. People also consume tiger meat for strength and in the belief that it has aphrodisiac properties. But it is essential to protect these beautiful animals as they are the balancing forces in the forest ecosystem.