The Great Indian Tiger

The Great Indian Tiger

Indian Tiger is Associated To Hindu Goddess Durga
Indian Tiger is considered as the guardian of the jungle, carrier of the Mother Goddess and the creator of the rain. He is capable of controlling the drought and can even invoke Indra, the God of Thunder and Rain. The Indian Tiger can protect, guard, and kill if he finds someone breaking the laws of the jungle.

From Siberia to Sumatra, the tiger is perceived as an icon of strength, speed and agility. The Indian Tiger is in fact seen as Gods officer on special duty, protecting the young, healing the sick, and punishing the culprits. In India tigers are revered to such an extent that in the mid-seventies there was a movie chalked out an entirely new deity Sheronwali Ma mother goddess that rides tigers. The movie soon became an obsession with the entire nation, and for several months devotees showered the silver screen with coins and other offerings. Another incarnation of the Mother Goddess, Durga, is always seen depicted as riding a tiger. Goddess Durga is portrayed as being as a collective force of all the Gods to fight the evil power of the demon Mahishasur. Possessing joint powers of all the Gods, GoddessDurga chose the tiger as her vehicle for reasons most obvious.

The Tiger Dance Celebration
All along the coastline regions in the Southern parts India, there is a tradition of Tiger dance, to celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna on Janmashtami. On this day, in these areas men of all ages paint themselves with black stripes over a yellow base, wear tiger masks and dance in the streets. In some areas, like the small town of Udupi in Karnataka, special tiger dancing contests are held and the winners are rewarded with handsome prizes. One wonders what prompted this strange tradition in these areas, perhaps the desire to be like a tiger strong, clever and agile.

Sunderbands – The Major Tiger Hub in India
Sunderbans, in the eastern part of India is an area, where even though about half of the tiger population has mauled humans, the animal still enjoys reverence. Any assault or even harm of life is seen as a result of some misbehavior by the affected, in the present or prior birth, for which he or she is punished by the tiger. It can even be by his or her intrusion into the territory of the Indian Tiger, by breaking the laws of the jungle, by cutting green trees or just by harming some species.

In the paintings of Warlis, a tribe residing north of Bombay, the tiger is depicted as a warm and friendly animal sitting or passing through the village. Warlis have always had faith in their tiger god, the Baghadeva. Carved wooden statues of tigers with the sun, moon and the milky-way in the background can be seen all over their habitat. Warlis believe that the tiger is supreme to all other organisms and that the universe exists only because the Tiger is there.

The Belief of North-East Naga Tribes
In the north-east region of the country, Nagas believe that both man and the tiger are sons of the same mother. Although siblings, one took birth in the shape of a man and the other in the form of the striped tiger. Man stayed at home while the tiger went to the jungle. Later, due to some reason, the brothers were forced to fight against each other. Man forced the tiger to jump into the river and killed him. Floating downstream, the animal body was discovered by the Naga God, who sat on it for 10 years and gave birth to hundreds of tigers.

All over its habitat, the Indian Tiger and shades of its existence can be seen finely woven with the local culture and tradition. All over, one comes across thousands of anecdotes about the beast; both inspiring and terrifying. All over India one can find images, statues, and paintings of the tiger, yet this beautiful animal is in constant danger from the human race whose inborn nature is to defy while admiring.

While getting down from an elephant in the National parks disappointed, one often comes across a wildlife board “Don’t be disappointed if you could not see the tiger, the tiger sure would have seen you”. This very character makes the tiger different from the other big cats the ability to hide and merge in the surroundings. This is also one of the major survival techniques adopted by the tiger.

Unlike lion, Indian Tiger leads a very solitary life, hunts alone, lives and replicates in the areas that provide him enough cover. It is believed that when God made the tiger he made stealth and invisibility the two main characteristics of this fascinating Lord of the Jungle. But there is a catch. While a tiger lies in the bush it is almost impossible to see that it stays perfectly still without a sound. Except for its tail, which he can never hold still however hard it tries.

Tiger Habitat
Scientific evidence suggests that the tigers first originated in Siberia. Fossil records dating from the Pleistocene period found in the Chigar caves of the New Siberian Islands indicate that the sabre-toothed tiger lived there some three million years ago. The last tiger of this species became extinct just 10,000 years ago. and its descendents started expanding their horizons, shifting more southwards ultimately finding their best home in the Indian Subcontinent. Today biologists identify eight subspecies the Royal Bengal Tiger, the Siberian, the Caspian, the Javan, the Sumatran, the Chinese, the Indo-Chinese and the Balinese. Today the Caspian and the Balinese species are extinct while a lot of survival-pressure is still on the other six subspecies.

Tigers are very rugged and can survive in a variety of environmental situations, ranging from dry and arid to high-altitude, cold and Himalayan regions. In India, the animal is found in the mangrove forest of Sunderbans, the hot and arid jungles of Rajasthan, the wet and evergreen northeast India and the swampy reedlands of the Terai.

Tiger Population
According to an estimate there were at least 50,000 tigers in India alone in the 19th century. By the turn of the century 40,000 tigers were estimated in India, but the plight of this royal beast became evident when the All India Tiger census revealed that only 1800 members of the species were living in 1972. Tiger once the symbol of Indian wilderness, and shooting (of course with guns from quite a safe distance) them was taken to be a symbol of heroism. Over a few centuries, the tiger was mercilessly slaughtered by all trying to prove their manhood. Documents show that more than 20,000 tigers were shot between 1860-1960. The actual figures no doubt would be much more than this. To add to this, indiscriminate and insensitive development further took its toll on the King of the Jungle. An obvious change in the attitude of the people was also registered. Many tribes, for whom Indian Tiger was once symbol of life, force and justice, started working against it by helping shikaris and the fur-traders.

But before it was too late, the government under pressure from biologists and tiger lovers from all over the world pressed the panic button and Project Tiger was launched in India. India is now involved in a massive conservation effort covering over 300 national parks and sanctuaries and accounting for over 12% of India’s total forest cover. According to the 1984 census the tiger population was above 4,000.

Tiger On The Hunt
Although the Indian tigers are labelled as the king of the jungle, life for the tiger is not easy, especially when all other species collectively work against it. Different species of deer have their own distinctive alarm calls forwarded further by all the prey species. Monkeys and langurs from their superior positions on the trees always keep a vigil on its movements.

Even in the area where there is plenty of prey, the Indian Tiger has to really work hard to fill his stomach. After thousands of years of its evolution the ungulates and the hoofed herbivores have developed the senses of sight and smell and other techniques to collectively defy any attack from this much feared beast. They constantly lift their snout to catch the smell of the predator. On apprehension of danger, the matriarch first stumps her forefoot followed by a high pitched call, if the danger is real. The entire herd then immediately leave the area.

The Tact’s of Hunting
The Indian Tiger moves against the flow of the breeze in order to avoid detection by his body-odour. Very silently he treads towards his victim, stalking well behind cover. This is the most crucial part of the hunt, any mistake on his part and he may loose his meal of the day.

A study in Ranthambore indicates that only one in every ten hunting attempts of the Indian Tiger is successful. At times, he may even take 30 minutes to cover just 20 yards. With a sudden flash he pounces on the hapless prey, usually taking it from behind, laying his chest on the back of the animal, and piercing the sharp canines into the neck of his quarry. Mostly the India Tiger tries to bring down the prey with his body weight, jerking the neck to break the spinal cord, killing it instantly.

Indian Tiger starts its meal from the rump and the hind legs. Very neatly he opens the stomach cavity, takes out the intestine and the stomach, and then starts feeding on the fleshy organs. He may feed upon his kill for 3-4 days without minding its smell or condition. It also eats the skin and the hair which act as roughage and help in the digestion.

A La Carte
The bigger the better is a formula that the tiger believes in. In fact, it goes by the size of the prey rather than species. All deer and wild boars are hot favourites and with very large species, sub-adults and the cubs are on the priority list. In the Sunderbans the tigers are also known to feed on fishes, turtles and water monitors. Occasionally, while training her cubs a tigress might kill langurs or monkeys.

The Tiger Cubs
Always on the move, nature has thus chalked a relatively smaller gestation period of 105 days for the species. Thats the reason the tiger cubs when born are tiny, blind and helpless no problem, nature has been generous here too. To ensure the survival of the species, a tigress gives birth to six cubs, so even if the infant mortality is high due to their dependency on the mother, at least a few survive. On an average, only two cubs are able to make it to adulthood.

Tiny blind cubs are brought up with great care and affection by the mother. This affectionate relationship of the mother and cubs has surprised many a biologist and hunters, who at different times have seen the other side of the tigers nature. As a rule, only the female takes care of the cubs, but in Ranthambore national park, an unusual photograph was taken by Fateh Singh Rathore showing father, mother and their two cubs sitting leisurely in a water pool.

The cubs do not go out hunting until they are three months old. The mother changes her lair frequently in order to avoid intrusions by other predators while she is away on a hunt. The cubs are trained to be disciplined right from their early childhood. A carefully worked out scheme of vocal symbols further guides the cubs to hide or to come out to greet the mother.

One of the earliest lessons for the cubs is to pounce on their mothers tail, which she constantly shifts to dodge them. Cubs also play a lot among themselves, pulling each others tails and biting ears. They also learn the stalking and treading techniques from the mother and may occasionally kill a small squirrel for fun. Once the cubs are three months old they accompany their mother; first observing everything from a safe distance and later gradually participating slowly they learn the tricks of the trade.

Survival of The Fittest
If lucky, the tiger cubs reach adulthood (many a times the male tiger kills the cubs if they are not his own so as to win the female). The young cubs stay with their mother till they are 1 to 2 years old. Once they attain the age of adulthood they leave the protective cover of their mother, the males have to vacate their fathers territory or risk confrontation. The territory of the male tiger in the prey-rich area can be as large as 50-100km. This territory is shared by at least three females. The female agrees to live in the tigers territory for reasons of security, food and progeny assurance and the male for the reasons most obvious.

The young tiger may require to travel quite far, never to return to his place of his birth. This process ensures the exchange of the genes, essential for the healthy growth of a species. He may have to compete with the rivals and may even get hurt or killed in the process.

Courtship Period
Males demarcate their territories by sprinkling urine on prominent trees on the periphery of their territories. They also scrape the tree by their nails and then sprinkle foul smelling secretion from their anal gland. Any intrusion in this territory is taken seriously and the offender is either shooed away or killed. Incidences of tiger killing and eating another tiger have been reported.

Female tigers also mark their territories but not as often and religiously as the males. The scent of their secretions smell even more when the female is in heat, delivering invitations to the males to mate. Since the territories are distinctly marked and respected, there are hardly any confrontations between the males. But if such an event does take place, it is mostly serious. Knock-out fights are not uncommon and many tigers may die due to injuries inflicted during these supremacy bouts.

The courtship period is short ranging from a week to 10 or 12 days, with actual mating taking place for just two or three days. After the mating period is over for the tigers, life is once again solitary for both the sexes. After a gestation period of  around 105 days, females gives birth to six, small, blind and helpless cubs. This marks the starting of another challenging period for the mother tiger.

Identification of the Tigers
Tiger identification and counting its true number has been a challenge for the biologists. Though every tiger has its own unique pattern of stripes and facial features, its not practical to use this method because of its secretive behaviour and other field problems. Alternative, but comparatively less reliable method of identifying individuals by their pug-marks is employed. Different features of tigers pug, that is size, shape, depth of right and left lobes, placing of toes to name a few varies form tiger to tiger. Using a combination of these features, individuals can be identified.

However, there is a lot of criticism about the pugmark method of identification and counting. Tigers leave different pugmarks on different kinds of strata. There is a strong feeling amongst activists that the actual number of tigers in the forest may be much less than what the forest officials claim.

Save Tiger
Why should a species that is always blood-thirsty be conserved? Why should huge government and international funds go in for the safety of the tiger when so many human lives are living in poverty and misery. The answer to the question is not as simple as it seems. For sure, the lives of fellow human beings are precious, but the survival of the tiger is no less important.

Unfortunately we, the human beings do not live in isolation. Unfortunately we co-exist in an intense network of species and sub-species. The human beings evolved as a result of evolutionary process that started millions of years ago. From a small, semi-living, unicellular organism millions of years ago we evolved into what we are today. No doubt we are the most developed and powerful of all the species, but unfortunately even today we are dependent on other species for our daily requirements. Unfortunately all the species, animals or plants, are similarly dependent on each other for their survival.

We are all small but important parts of the larger system that keeps us feeding and multiplying. Indian Tiger is also a small but important part of this system. If not for the tiger, it is for our own selfishness that we have to keep a important part of the system alive. For example, the tiger feeds on the herbivorous animals, thereby help keeping their population under control and indirectly saving the jungle from overgrazing. It also feeds on the sick, old and injured animals, thereby helping to keep its prey species healthy. There are hundreds of obvious and not so obvious ways in which the tiger is helps the larger system work.

Another worrying fact about the tigers in India is that the the two sub-groups of tigers are already extinct. Once the last pair of tigers on this planet die, how much ever we want, desire or try, we will never be able to create another tiger. So we need to be very much careful in preserving the tiger species in India.

Today this majestic specimen of life, that evolved after millions of years is in danger just because of the inhuman behaviour of human beings. Indian Tiger is the icon of a healthy and prospering jungle and the biologists believe that if in a jungle the tigers are surviving and multiplying, then every thing else in the forest is well. The tigers presence itself as a symbol of growth and well being.