Tiger (Panthera tigris),our National animal, is the largest of world’s big cats and this magnificent animal, with its distinctive orange and black striped and beautifully marked face. There are nine Subspecies of tigers that include the Bengal Tiger, Indo-chinese tiger, Malayan Tiger, Siberian Tiger, South China Tiger and Sumatran Tiger. However few subspecies have become extinct that include the Bali Tiger, Caspian Tiger and Javan Tiger.
A hundred years ago 100,000 tigers roamed in Asia and it is shocking to know that only about 4000 tigers are left alive, these amounts to a loss of 96% of the wild tigers. Hence the Tigers are officially classified as endangered by IUCN Red List of threatened species. Tigers are on the brink of extinction and efforts by many organizations aims to bring attention to this fact and try to halt their decline. Many factors have caused their numbers to fall, that include habitat loss, climate change, hunting and poaching and one should aim to protect and expand their habitats and raise awareness of the need of conservation. Poaching is playing a massive part in declining number of tigers. The illegal trade in tigers was banned in 1987; however the trade of this cat is estimated to be about $8 billion a year. Tiger claws, teeth, bones and whiskers are extensively used in traditional Chinese medicine and sell at about $50,000.
Tigers are culturally important to people across the globe and, as apex predator, essential to the proper functioning of their entire ecosystem. Rightly said by Billy Arjan Singh “ The air we breathe and the water we drink stem from the biodiversity of the universal environment and its economics. The tiger is at the center of this truth. If it goes, we go.”
Tiger is our National animal and Iconic symbol. We need to save them for their scientific, economic, aesthetic, cultural and ecological values and to preserve for all time areas of biological importance as a National heritage for the benefit, education and enjoyment of people. India currently boasts of 48 tiger reserves, which are governed by Project Tiger that is administered by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). The major tiger reserves amounting to increase in tiger numbers over the last few years are in the states of Karnataka that tops the list with approximate 408 tigers, followed by Uttarakhand 340, Madhya Pradesh 308, Tamil Nadu 229, Maharashtra 190, Assam 167 and Kerala 129, these numbers are of year 2014.
Karnataka state has tremendous potential to increase tiger population; the major tiger reserves that have good density of tigers and prey base are Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Nagarahole Tiger Reserve, Biligiriranga Wildlife Sanctuary (BR Hills) and Bhadra Tiger Reserve. Dandeli-Anshi Tiger Reserve and Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary have good potential for development and I believe the forest department is working on this. Kudremukh National Park too has seen a great potential for tigers and awaiting its status of tiger reserve by NTCA.
The Bandipur forests were once the Mysore Maharaja’s personal Game Preserve. Protection of this region began as early as the beginning of this century. It is one of the few reserves that has survived and flourished due to the foresight and vision of men from the past. Nestled close to other sanctuaries like Mudumalai, Wynaad and Nagarahole, Bandipur maintains its own distinctive identity. It was brought under Project Tiger in 1973 and is most famous for its tigers and elephants. Even today, it is one of the few sanctuaries that have been spared threats from major dams, buildings,and mining or irrigation projects. A low profile and careful management has sustained this rich land that upholds its illustrious past and continues to flourish with diverse vegetation, thriving animal life and a prolific insect and bird population.
Nagarahole National Park is also know as Rajiv Gandhi National Park, is located in Kodagu district and Mysore district in Karnataka state in South India. It is part of the Nilgiri biosphere reserve. The park has rich forest cover, small streams, hills, valleys and waterfalls. Nagarahole has a healthy predator-prey ratio, with many tigers, leopards, Asiatic Wild Dogs, Gaurs (Indian bison), Elephants and variety of deers namely Spotted deer, Sambar deer, Barking deer and Mouse deer. The park has excellent bird species approximately about 270 species have been recorded.
The park derives its name from naga, meaning snake and hole, referring to streams. The park was an exclusive hunting reserve of the kings of the Wodeyar dynasty, the former rulers of the Kingdom of Mysore. It was set up in 1955 as a wildlife sanctuary and later its area increased to 643.39 km (399.78 mi). It was upgraded into a national park in 1988. The park was declared a tiger reserve in 1999.
The vegetation here consists mainly of North Western Ghats moist deciduous forests with teak, rosewood, sandalwood and crocodile bark.
Another interesting tiger reserve is BRT, situated between the Western and Eastern Ghats the Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple (BRT) Tiger Reserve is based in the southeastern Karnataka, on the border of Tamil Nadu. It has been named after the Rangaswamy temple that is embellished with a whitish rock at the helms of the sanctuary. This gift of a wonderful ecosystem is the worthy delight of floral, faunal and cultural affluence. The amazing combination of the hills, ridges and grasslands of BRT tiger reserve resides an astounding variety of varied species. It was declared as the protected reserve in the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.
The wildlife sanctuary is spread over a large area of 322 sq km and initially it was created surrounding the temple. Only in 2010 it was declared a reserve under Project Tiger. Bilgri as the name of the sanctuary is derived from the white rock with the temple of lord Rangaswamy on the topside of these hills. This unique sanctuary exhibits scrub, dry deciduous, moist deciduous, evergreen, semi evergreen and shola forests. It is widely known for its many endemic species of plants including valuable medicinal ones.
The tiger population in India has improved over the last few years with several initiatives and a lot of efforts have helped in creating the awareness to “Save Our Tigers” and it is quite evident that from 1411 tigers in 2008, today we have approximately over 2226 tigers, this is substantial increase in tiger population considering the situation few years ago. Many organizations that include NGO’s, Educational Institutions, Wildlife Conservationist, Wildlife Magazines, Media and of course Nature lovers & of course Wildlife Photographers are doing their best to create the required awareness by campaigning across the country.
The increase in tiger numbers is real good news but we are not done as yet. People and tigers in India are competing with each other for space. This conflict threatens our remaining wild tigers and poses a major problem for communities like tribal living in and around tiger reserves. As forest shrink and prey gets scarce, tigers are forced to hunt livestock’s and cattle, which many local communities depend on for their livelihood. In retaliation, tigers are killed or captured. The Man-Animal conflict leads to poaching tigers that end up for sale in black market. Local community depends on forests for fire wood, food and timber also increases the risk of tiger attacks on humans. Hence now it’s critical to work towards increasing and creating the natural habitat of our tigers. One way of doing this is to relocate the tribal and local communities from the forest and by providing them better place to live with a source of income. Other concerns are related to illegal constructions of resorts and encroaching land for agriculture and other developments on the fringes of tiger reserves.
A quick overview
“Irresponsible Tourism” also creates adverse impact on tigers, one needs to maintain discipline by following the standard guidelines, do’s and don’ts while visiting tiger reserves, this implies for all tourists, nature lovers and wildlife photographers. Tigers need space, isolation and protection and the rest they will look after.
Tigers are the largest cats among the big cat family, they hunt on Gaurs (Indian bison), Sambar Deers, Spotted Deers, Barking Deers, Nilgai, Wild boars and at times Sloth bears and Elephant calves.
Tiger with Flehmen response behavior – Tigers or any other animals may perform the flehmen response when investigating sites of particular interest, or perhaps odors or tastes. The behavior is usually performed by curling back its top lips exposing the front teeth and gums, then inhaling and holding the posture for several seconds characterizes this response. The flehmen response often gives the appearance that the animal is “grimacing”, “smirking” or “laughing”.This behavior helps in identifying reproductive status – male individuals commonly use the flehmen response as an olfactory mechanism for identifying the reproductive state of females of the same species based on pheromones in the female’s urine or genitals. This generally occurs most frequently on the day before estrus when the ewes are sexually receptive.
Tigers are territorial and usually mark their territory by scent marking. Scent marking is also known as territorial marking or spraying when this involves urination as seen in this image. This is a behavior used by tigers and other cats to identify their territory. Most commonly, this is accomplished by depositing strong-smelling substances contained in the urine, faeces, or from specialized scent glands located on various areas of the body. Other ways of marking territory are by rubbing the chin to tree trunk, these cats have scent gland in their cheeks that attracts females or warns a male tiger in the same territory.
Tigers are excellent swimmers and simply love water. These cats mostly soak in the water after making a kill and consuming the meat. Heat generates at high intensity while hunting and more so after consuming the fresh meat, hence it’s important to keep the body cool and this is behavior is also seen during hot summers when tigers love to relax in water. Another interesting fact about tigers is despite loving water so much they will do anything to avoid water touching or splashing their eyes, that’s one reason that they are seen entering into water in reverse direction.
Praveen Siddannavar is a native of Belgaum, an engineer by profession and a natural history photographer by choice. He started his professional career with KPIT at Pune, he also lived and worked in London, UK for over 6 years and setup two Indian subsidiaries in London and in 2004 he returned to India and has now settled in Bangalore with his wife and two daughters. Currently he works with KPIT, Bangalore as Center Head.