TIGER/Behaviour, Distribution, Habitat, Size, Weight, IUCN stetus


DESCRIPTION: Undoubtedly the most charismatic animal of India, the majestic tiger has a tawny orange coat patterned with broad black stripes. The stripe patterns on the body are unique and each individual can be identified by this pattern. The underparts of the tiger are pure white as are patches around its eyes and on its cheeks. The back of each ear is black with a winking white spot on it as well. The eyes are large, round and forward-facing, a characteristic that helps the animal in the forest catch its prey but captivates the world instantly, giving it a charismatic mega-fauna status that rivals none. The ears are rounded, small and placed apart on the top of the head. The whiskers are long and are important for sensing. The nose pad is flesh coloured. The whole head is set almost onto the body with a short muscled neck that combines with its long canines to bite long and deep into the prey. Its dentition is well suited to its position as the top carnivore of the Indian forests. The tiger’s hind limbs are much longer than the forelimbs, but the latter are thick and powerful with a large paw that is built to strike down large prey. It tail is long, slim and banded with black rings almost to the tip. It possesses scent glands in the anal region, toes, tail region and cheeks, as in most cats. Tigers have high variability in coat colour, and across the globe and even in India some variation is seen in the intensity of the orange colour or the darkness of the coat. The same is true of body size, with some regions reporting larger animals on the whole than others. Melanistic and white tigers are the best-known coat variations in the tiger in India, but this is not due to albinism as is popularly believed. The White Tiger which originated around Rewa in Madhya Pradesh was caused by a recessive gene that inhibits yellow and red pigments while allowing black pigments to be exhibited. In nature, this freak does not survive but its immense popularity in captivity has led people to think at times, erroneously, that this is a separate species. Similarly, tigers around Odisha tend to have a rare colour variation known as pseudo-melanism. The black stripes appear very thick and the tawny colour is not seen as much through the black pattern.

Tiger marking its teritory
Tiger Marking Teritory

BEHAVIOUR: The tiger prefers to hunt large deer, which in Indian conditions means the Sambar, where available. Quite adaptable, it can survive on smaller prey such as Wild Pig, Spotted Deer or even fish in the mangroves. However, it is presumed that tigers evolved because of their unique nature of taking large prey more than 30 kg in weight. Large animals such as rhinos, elephant calves and even bull Gaur are taken opportunistically. Tigers hunt nocturnally as a habit, but in certain sanctuaries have turned diurnal due to being used to tourist presence. They stalk their prey through high grass cover or undergrowth and, with one sudden onrush, take them down with a swipe at the neck, followed by a swift bite to the jugular. Tigers tend to eat the prey from the backside up as opposed to leopards, which eat belly up; this can be a useful clue to identifying the predator responsible for killing prey. Tigers may attack humans if prey is unavailable, or if the tiger is old or injured. Tigers with worn-out teeth (due to old age) or injury to the forepaws such as a porcupine-quill-caused wound are known to kill and eat humans. This behaviour has earned it the fearsome title of man-eater, although other mammals such as the leopard, the bear or the elephant take far more human lives in India.

DISTRIBUTION: Today, shrinking tiger numbers and habitat are major conservation issues globally and occupy most of the conservation space in India. It is estimated that there are only 1,600-odd tigers left in India, comprising about per cent of the world’s population. In India, the tiger is distributed along the Terai foothills of the Himalayas, in north-east India, in central India (especially around the central highlands and Satpura–Maikal landscape including Vidarbha), the Eastern Ghats and the Western Ghats including the Nilgiri plateau. The states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Bihar, West Bengal Arunachal Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh have large tiger habitats left while those in Assam, Karnataka, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan support large numbers in protected areas.

HABITAT: Tigers are widely distributed within their range in tropical dry and moist deciduous forests (a key habitat for the species), evergreen forests and riverine forests. In the Sunderbans, it is adapted to a mangrove habitat, in the Terai it frequents a moist deciduous–grassland–riverine habitat complex, and in higher altitudes such as Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, it inhabits coniferous, oak and rhododendron forests. Tigers can exist in dry scrub and semi-arid areas of Rajasthan just as well as above the treeline in Arunachal Pradesh, but these constitute suboptimal habitats.

Tiger Roaring

Size: 270–310 cm (male); 240–265 cm (female),

Wt: 175–260 kg (male);100–160 kg (female)

IUCN Status: Endangered


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