Know Your Animals…

Jayanthi Rengun

Fig 2

Fig 1

Courtesy: Eyewitness – Natural World, Doling Kindersley, Hong Kong

The tiger is the largest obligate terrestrial carnivore in all of the mammalian assemblages. It   is a specialized predator. It is never found far from water sources and displays great adaptability in living in different climatic regimes, ranging from temperate oak-pine forests to tropical rain forests and mangrove swamps.

Tiger and mythology in India

There are two areas of Indian mythology, the Durga myth and the legend of Ayyappan, one in   the far north in the  Himalayas  and  the  other  in the deep south Kerala, that show how important the tiger has been in our mythology. The vahana of Durga is often a lion, but there is a subtle distinction between Vishnu Durga and Siva Durga, which very few people know about. Vishnu Durga rides the lion, while Siva Durga rides the tiger.

Tiger and its habitat

Tigers are territorial: they live alone in large areas that they defend from other tigers. The ideal tiger territory is a large forested area with rich vegetation for cover, plentiful water to drink and cool off in, and abundant deer, swine, and other large mammals to prey on. With these major three essentials, tigers can thrive in diverse habitats and climates including hot tropical rain forests in Sumatra and Southeast Asia, cool oak and pine forest in the Amur River Valley in far eastern Russia, tall grass jungles in India and Nepal, coastal mangrove forests in Bangladesh and mountain slopes in Bhutan.

Tiger’s feeding habits

Tigers hunt alone, primarily between dusk and dawn, travelling 10 to 30 km (6 to 20 miles) in a night in search of prey. They specialize in killing wild boar and other swine, and medium to large deer such as red deer, chital, and sambar. In India and Nepal tigers hunt gaur, a huge wild cattle weighing up to 1,000 kg (2,200 lb). Tigers go out of their way to kill the largest prey available. Only the adult Asian elephants and greater one-horned rhinoceros are safe from tigers, although tigers do kill rhinoceros and elephant calves. Tigers also kill domestic animals such as cows and goats.

Occasionally tigers kill people, but only if other prey is scarce or the tigers are too sick or injured to catch other prey.


Males can tell when a female is ready to mate by detecting changes in the smell of her scent marks. A female is receptive to a male for about three days and during this time, called “estrus”, the pair may copulate hundreds of times. Stimulation from copulation is necessary for a female tiger to release eggs so they can be fertilized. If a female does not become pregnant, she will return to estrus in 30 to 60 days.

The time between conception and birth, known as gestation, is 100 to 112 days for tigers. Commonly two to three (rarely four or five) blind and helpless cubs are born in a secluded spot under very thick cover. Cubs weigh about 1 kg (2.2 lb) at birth. Male cubs grow more rapidly than female cubs and a large size difference between males and females is apparent by six months of age.

Mothers provide all parental care for the cubs, staying with them continuously for the first few days and hunting close by for the first two months. Fathers do not help raise cubs except to keep other adult males, which may kill the newborn, out of the area.

The present status of tigers

Tigers are disappearing in the wild at an unprecedented rate. The primary threats to tigers are from human activities, including habitat destruction that results in population fragmentation and tiger poaching. Beginning early 20th century, Asia experienced enormous population growth. As populations expanded, farms, villages, and cities transformed the once vast wilderness. People and their activities now dominate the landscape. Further, the remaining forests that remainare degraded-people have scoured the area removing fodder (food for domestic livestock) and other products, including the tiger’s essential prey, the deer and pigs that people prize as food as much as tigers do.

Though tiger-hunting is illegal today, in most countries where the animals are found, poachers are still killing them in large numbers. The poachers sell tiger body parts in the black market, particularly bones used for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a formalized system of health care utilizing such therapeutic treatments as herbal medicine, acupuncture, and nutrition, which is   practiced   by   25   percent   of   the   world’s population.

Conservation initiatives

The combination of habitat loss, population fragmentation, and poaching are pushing the tiger to the brink of extinction. To protect the animal, both the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species List and the Red List of Threatened Animals compiled by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), a non-governmental organization that compiles global information on endangered species, list the tiger as endangered. The tiger is protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which makes it illegal to trade tigers or tiger parts.

In India, “Project Tiger” was launched in 1973 by the then Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi to protect tigers from becoming extinct. In addition to conservation initiatives in the wild, zoos play a critical role to help the tiger’s endangered status. Tigers breed readily in captivity, and several thousands live in zoos and private animal facilities. Most zoos now collaborate to manage the breeding of captive tigers in order to maintain maximum genetic diversity within the captive tiger population and to prevent any one zoo from becoming overpopulated with tigers-a situation that causes crowding and unhealthy living circumstances for the tiger.

Moreover, the tiger being the national animal of India, according to the Environment (Protection) Act Article 51 A (g), it becomes all the more imperative for each individual of our nation to take concerted efforts to minimize activities leading to habitat destruction, and thereby ensuring a sustainable future for years to come.

Source: Eco News, Vol 9, No 3, October to December, 2003.

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  5. Umadevi says:

    Know yr animals..Good one. Has the OPeration Tiger (or whatever the name) achieved the objective of improving the tiger population to desired limits? Captive cubs …do they show any change in character? Read a news item on Pakisthan..where the new fetish is to keep tigers and lions as pets..Wonder if the environmental shift wd not gradually alter the ‘thisness’ (to use the Hopkinsian idiom!) of the animal finally. The information on Vishnu and siva durga was interesting.

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