Today is Global Tiger Day and given that this iconic, yet endangered, species remains in decline, this worldwide commemoration takes on more importance and relevance each and every year. Did you know that there are less than 4 000 of these strikingly beautiful cats left in the world? In India alone, where 50 000 tigers roamed freely 200 years ago, now less than 3 000 remain.
To celebrate Global Tiger Day and help spread some much-needed awareness about the plight of this mighty and unmistakable predator, Toby Sinclair (one of our expert &Beyond specialist guides in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan) shares some interesting and rather sobering tiger facts.
Toby has lived and guided in India and Sri Lanka for over 40 years and is one of the region’s best-travelled naturalists and specialist guides. Not only has he edited, photographed or authored 20 books about India and South Asia, he also continues to manage wildlife and cultural documentaries for the BBC, PBS, Discovery and National Geographic channels across the region.
Did you know…?
- There are approximately 3 800 tigers left in the wild
- India is home to 70% of these remaining tigers
- The Bengal tiger, with over 3 000 individuals, is the one subspecies that still has a fighting chance at survival (there are an estimated +2 400 in India, 200 in Nepal, +100 in Bhutan and 400 in Bangladesh)
- The five other living subspecies include the Indochinese, Malayan, Siberian, South China and Sumatran tiger
- There were originally nine subspecies; however, three of them went extinct in the 20th century (Bali, Caspian and Javan)
- It is estimated that there are an astonishing 10 000 tigers being held in captivity in North America (2 500 are reported to be in Texas alone)
- The tiger is the biggest species in the cat family, weighing as much as 300 kg or 660 lb
- The collective noun for tigers is a streak (or an ambush)
- Though it does appear that Bengal tiger numbers are increasing, part of this increase is thanks to improved census techniques and reporting methods, especially in spillover areas outside of national parks or protected areas
- In the late 1960s, India formalised a strict ban on the hunting of tigers and leopards, followed closely by Nepal and elsewhere. In 1971, a census in India suggested there were only 1 972 tigers left in the wild, prompting then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to press the panic button. The Indian government formed a committee, which later led to the official launch of Project Tiger (a much-needed tiger conservation programme) in 1973.
- Project Tiger initially designated nine protected areas as official tiger reserves: Corbett, Palamau, Simlipal, Manas, Sunderbans, Kanha, Melghat, Ranthambhore and Bandipur; Periyar and Simlipal were added in 1979, and over the years other areas have been declared tiger reserves and are also therefore eligible for government funding
- Project Tiger now forms part of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and today there are 50 tiger reserves in India, covering just over 2% of the country
- India, Nepal and Bangladesh all have opportunities for seeing Bengal tigers in the wild; in India, perhaps Corbett, Ranthambhore, Bandhavgarh, Panna, Kanha, Pench, Satpura, and Tadoba offer the best chances; in Nepal, both Chitwan and Bardia National Parks are prime tiger habitat
- The greatest threat to global tiger populations is the destruction of natural habitat and human encroachment
- Initiated in 2013, the Village Wildlife Volunteer Programme aims to conserve and protect the tiger populations within Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. Under this initiative, 30 volunteers, or ‘guardians’, (typically herders or farmers that live on the outskirts of the reserve) help to monitor tigers outside the reserve, report any suspected poaching activity and keep track of any issues arising from cattle deaths caused by tigers. Our &Beyond Asia team sponsored one guardian and, more recently, donated motorbikes to enable mobility for the Village Education teams when conducting their conservation lessons and reforestation projects.
- White tigers are neither albino nor a subspecies; the white colouration is actually due to a lack of orange pigment
- The white tiger has been occasionally, and historically, sighted in the forests of Assam, Bengal and central India; no white tiger has been seen in the wild since 1958
- All white tigers in zoos are in fact inbred decedents of an individual, Mohan, who was caught by the then Maharaja of Rewa in a forest just north of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in the late 1950s
- Black tigers are reported from the forests of Orissa and have been caught by remote cameras in the Simlipal Tiger Reserve; the orange background is generally darker and the black stripes considerably broader, often merging and linking up around the belly