Frequently Asked Questions - Tiger | WWF India

Frequently Asked Questions - Tiger

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The Indian tiger has an orange coat patterned with broad black stripes. It has black ears, each with a winking white spot on the back, powerful forepaws, and a long banded tail. The total length of the tiger from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail is between 2.6 to 3 meters and it weighs anywhere between 135-230 kgs. The average life span of a tiger in the wild is about 14 to 16 years.
© wwf

Where are tigers found in the wild?

In the wild, tigers are found in India, Nepal, China, Russia, Bhutan, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Sumatra (Indonesia) and Malaysia. Eight sub-species of tiger existed in the past out of which three have been extinct for many years. The five surviving sub species of tiger are 
  • Indian Tiger or Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) found in India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh; 
  • Indo-Chinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti) mainly found in Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia but are also found in Myanmar, Southern China, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam; 
  • Siberian or Amur Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) found in far east Russia;
  • Sumatran Tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) found in the Indonesian island of Sumatra; 
  • South China Tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) found in China. The population found in Peninsular Malaysia has been given a status of separate sub species Panthera tigris jacksoni. 
The three sub species of tigers that became extinct in the past century are: the Bali Tiger (Panthera tigris balica) that was found in the Indonesian island of Bali, the Javan Tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica) that was found in the Indonesian island of Java and the Caspian Tiger (Panthera tigris virgata) that was found in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Caucasus, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Recent reports indicate that the South China tiger is also extinct in the wild. Recent genetic studies indicate that the Caspian and Siberian tigers may have been the same sub species.

What is an Indian tiger?

The tiger has an orange coat patterned with broad black stripes. It has black ears, each with a winking white spot on the back, powerful forepaws, and a long banded tail. The total length of the tiger from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail is between 2.6 to 3 meters and it weighs anywhere between 135-280 kgs. The average life span of a tiger in the wild is about 14 to 16 years. 

The Indian/Bengal tiger is found mainly in India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. The diet of an Indian tiger mainly consists of large wild ungulates such as chital (Axis axis), sambar (Cervus unicolor), barasingha (Cervus duvacelii), nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus) and gaur (Bos gaurus) and other animals such as the wild pig (Sus scrofa). It is an opportunistic feeder and can also kill large prey such as elephant calves (Elephas maximus), gaur (Bos gaurus) and wild buffalo (Bubalis arnee). Tigers may occasionally also kill sloth bear and leopards as well as smaller prey such as peafowl, langur, jungle fowl, hare etc. 

Due to their large body size tigers are not good tree climbers like leopards. They can only climb along large leaning trees. But tigers are excellent swimmers and love water. Tigers are known to swim between islands in the Sunderbans.
Click on the image to support tiger in the wild. 
	© Adam OSWELL/WWF
Indian tiger
© Adam OSWELL/WWF

Where do you find tigers in India?

Tigers are found in a variety of habitats, including tropical and sub tropical forests, evergreen forests, mangrove swamps and grasslands. In India, tigers are found in 19 states. For the better management of tiger habitats, forests have been demarcated as Tiger reserves, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries, also known as Protected Areas. There are 39 Tiger Reserves in our country today, some of which were added recently. For more details about the tiger reserves visit www.projecttiger.nic.in

 
 
	© WWF-India
Map showing state wise tiger numbers in India and WWF-India tiger landscape
© WWF-India

What are white tigers?

White tigers are not a separate sub-species, but are white in color due to an expression of recessive genes. Interestingly, the white tigers are found only among the Indian tigers and can only be seen only in captivity now. The last white tiger reported in the wild was captured in the forests of Rewa in the state of Madhya Pradesh. The white tigers found in the zoos today are most likely descendants of this one tiger that was caught from the wild in Madhya Pradesh and later bred in captivity. White tigers have pink noses, white-to-cream coloured fur, and black, grey or chocolate-coloured stripes. Their eyes are usually blue, but may be green or amber.
 
 
	© WWF-India
White tigers are white in color due to an expression of recessive genes
© WWF-India

Are all tigers man-eaters?

Tigers, like all other wild animals, tend to avoid people, but can attack in defense if they are taken by surprise or if they are with their young ones. Such incidences may sometimes lead to humans being mauled or killed by chance. Occasionally, an aged, sick or injured tiger that is unable to hunt its natural prey may also kill a human being and feed on the body. A few of such tigers may resort to killing human beings intermittently since man is an easy prey. But not all aged, sick or injured tigers become man-eaters.

A healthy cub may also acquire man-eating skills from his/her mother. It is very difficult to state the exact reasons why a tiger turns man-eaters but the good thing is that such cases are extremely rare.

What is the significance of tigers in India?

Tigers occupy an important place in the Indian culture. Since ages, it has been a symbol of magnificence, power, beauty and fierceness and has been associated with bravery and valor. The tiger also has a significant place in Hindu mythology as the vehicle of Goddess Durga. In olden times, hunting of tigers was considered to be one of the highest acts of bravery by kings and noblemen.

The tiger is a unique animal which plays a pivotal role in the health and diversity of an ecosystem. It is a top predator and is at the apex of the food chain. Therefore the presence of tigers in the forest is an indicator of the well-being of the ecosystem. Protection of tigers in forests protects habitats of several other species. Indirect benefits include protection of rivers and other water sources, prevention of soil erosion and improvement of ecological services like pollination, water table retention etc. The absence of this top predator is an indication that its ecosystem is not sufficiently protected. Tigers are both a Flagship and Umbrella species. As a Flagship species they are important for conservation and as Umbrella species, conservation of tigers leads to conservation of other species. Tigers and high intensity biotic disturbances such as poaching and stealing of kills do not go together. If the tigers in the wild have to survive, it is imperative that other species of wild animals that are directly or indirectly a part of the food chain must also thrive. Therefore, the survival of the tiger is an important yardstick to measure the existence of a healthy forest ecosystem. 
 
	© Khalid Pasha/WWF-India
Tigers have been featured extensively in Indian art.
© Khalid Pasha/WWF-India

Is tiger endangered?

Yes, tigers in the wild are facing severe threats. There has been steep decline in the tiger population all across the world. At the beginning of the last century, it is believed that worldwide, there were possibly many thousands of tigers in the wild with about a few thousands of those in India. A WWF-WCS survey found that tigers have lost 93% of their historic range. In the last 10 years, tiger habitat decreased by an alarming 45%. Today, tigers occupy just 7% of their historic range. The current tiger population in India is estimated to be Around 1706 according to a WII-NTCA survey.

The decline in the tiger population in India can be attributed to many factors. The major reason is the growth in human population. Since independence large chunks of prime tiger habitats have been lost forever to agriculture and developmental activities. In India till the middle of the last century, people killed tigers in the name of sport.

Tiger hunting was officially banned only after the enactment of the Wildlife (Protection) Act in 1972. Today, increasing biotic disturbances, uncontrolled poaching of prey, urbanization, mining and quarrying; and poaching of tiger for its body parts gravely threaten the future of the tiger. Bones and other body parts of the tigers are used in Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM) and their skins are used for making Chubas (the traditional robe worn by the Tibetans). It is this illegal market for tiger skins and parts in China and Tibet that remains as one of the most serious threat to wild tiger populations in India.
 
	© Soumen Dey/ WWF-India
Poaching of tiger for its body parts gravely threaten its future
© Soumen Dey/ WWF-India

What are the Indian and international laws that protect tigers?

Indian Tiger is an endangered animal and is listed in the Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. This act gives it protection against hunting/poaching and trade for skins, bones and body parts. Any person who commits such an offence is punishable with an imprisonment of not less than three years extending up to seven years along with a fine of not less than fifty thousand rupees which may extend up to two lakh rupees. In the event of a second or subsequent conviction he can receive imprisonment for a term of not less than seven years and a fine which shall be not less than five lakh rupees and can vary up to a maximum of fifty lakh rupees

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) presently ratified by over 160 countries, makes international trade in tiger parts illegal. India has been a signatory of this convention since the year 1975.

Who are the major stakeholders in tiger conservation in India today?

The major stakeholders in tiger conservation in India are Government of India (Ministry of Environment and Forests), State Forest Departments, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (formerly known as the Project Tiger) and local communities. Tourism Departments, media and NGOs such as WWF-India and several other organizations also support tiger conservation initiatives.


What are the methods to estimate tiger populations?

The process of estimating the number of tigers in a given area is called ‘Tiger census.’ This exercise provides us with an estimate of tiger number, density and change in tiger indices - a measure of tiger occupancy in a given area. It is conducted at regular intervals to know the current tiger populations and population trends. Besides estimating the number of tigers the method also helps to gather information on the density of the tiger populations and associated prey.

Many different methods are used to estimate the number of tigers. The most commonly used technique in the past was ‘Pugmark Census Technique’. In this method the imprints of the pugmark of the tiger were recorded and used as a basis for identification of individuals. Now it is largely used as one of the indices of tiger occurrence and relative abundance. Recent methods used to estimate the numbers of tigers are camera trapping and DNA finger-printing. In camera trapping, the photograph of the tiger is taken and individuals are differentiated on the basis of the stripes on the body. In the latest technique of DNA fingerprinting, tigers can be identified from their scats.
 
	© Dipankar Ghose/ WWF-India
Pugmark Census Technique was a commonly used technique to estimate tiger numbers
© Dipankar Ghose/ WWF-India

What is the nature of Human-Wildlife conflict in India?

For centuries humans and wild animals have co-existed in India. This is mainly because the human populations were much lower and the forest areas were large. However, over the past few decades, the human population has grown manifold, thereby creating great pressure on forest resources. Large areas on which the forests were vast and undisturbed have given way to human habitations and settlements. Grazing by domestic cattle in forest areas has resulted in disease out-breaks among wild herbivores, and also reduced availability of fodder, forcing wild herbivores to depredate crops that adjoin forests. In retaliation, villagers sometimes resort to stealing power from power lines and setting up live electric fence to kill crop raiders. Due to lack of sufficient wild prey base in the forests, leopards frequent villages looking for food. In the process, humans, particularly children and women get killed. Lack of prey base also forces carnivores such as tigers, leopards and dholes (wild dog) and wolves to kill domestic cattle for survival. Villagers may again retaliate by poisoning these wild animals. There are also activities like stealing of animals killed by tigers lead to injury and death of human beings.
 
 
	© Soumen Dey/ WWF-India
Villagers retaliate by killing tigers when they kill cattle
© Soumen Dey/ WWF-India

Does tiger farming increase tiger populations in the wild?

No, captive breeding of tiger or tiger farming does not help to increase tiger populations in the wild. If this was true then those countries indulging in tiger farming would boast a healthy population of tigers in the wild and this hasn’t happened so far.

Tigers in the wild breed very well provided they have a good habitat and adequate protection. Problems related to habitat, prey base and protection can not be solved by captive breeding. Furthermore rehabilitation of a captive bred tiger in the wild has been unsuccessful. This is because tigers in the wild learn hunting by a process of close association with the mother, a situation which cannot be replicated in captivity. Therefore tiger farming is only a way to breed tigers for their skin and derivatives to meet market demands and cannot be seen as a conservation tool.

Moreover, if the trade in tiger body part is legalized in the name of tiger farming, eventually the tigers in the wild would be poached. Body part of wild tigers would always be preferred much more than that of farm-bred tigers. It will also be far more profitable to poach a tiger in the wild than to raise it in a farm which would cost about US$ 1500/year. The concept of farming the tigers for commercial trade should be abandoned for ever. Human ailments can be treated and cured with drugs other than the medicines prepared with tiger body parts.

Where do we stand in Tiger Conservation today?

India was the first country in the world to champion the cause of conservation of the tiger and its natural habitats. Project Tiger, launched in 1973, was one of the largest conservation initiatives of its kind globally. After a great success initially, it has had mixed results. Focus has been sharpened on tiger conservation issues across the country and many prime tiger habitats were designated as Tiger Reserves. Conservation initiatives in many areas have led to successful amelioration of habitats and a healthy tiger population while in other areas; the results have not been so effective. Threats to tiger conservation such as destruction and fragmentation of habitats, human-tiger conflict and poaching continue to remain.

What does the future hold for Indian tigers?

Tiger conservation continues to face increasing challenges on the ground. However, it is still not too late. Through scientific, planned management interventions such as restoration of habitat and prey base, curbing human-tiger conflict and illegal wildlife trade, we can help conserve viable tiger populations in the wild.

How does WWF-India contribute to Tiger Conservation?

To protect the tiger and to ensure its survival in the wild, WWF-India supports tiger conservation initiatives undertaken by the Government of India. The activities undertaken include strengthening protection measures in National Parks, Sanctuaries and Tiger Reserves, helping local communities to reduce their dependence on forest resources, mitigating human-wildlife conflict, providing a scientific database that will serve as a basis for sound management of tiger habitats, and capacity building for conservation of the species.

TRAFFIC-India, a collaboration of WWF and IUCN, has restarted operations to curb illegal trade in wildlife that is drastically affecting the wildlife populations in India.
 
	© Ameen Ahmed/WWF-India
Solar lamps to prevent tiger straying into villages.
© Ameen Ahmed/WWF-India

Can you help?

Yes, you can help save the tiger. Say ‘NO’ to tiger trade by refusing to buy tiger parts and items prepared from tiger derivatives. Speak to tiger and wild ungulate poachers and persuade them to give up poaching. You can also contribute by spreading awareness about tiger conservation issues and threats and also by supporting NGOs that work towards the same. Most importantly you must support green development initiatives to help restore the forest cover and reduce biotic pressures.

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