In the 28th mile of Daltongunj, people were gripped by a strange fear. The men of the villages worked for the contractor to collect timber from the forest and in the evening they got up on the truck carrying the load of timber and travel to collect their payment at the depot and then return home. Such had been their daily life for years. Until one by one they went missing. Guess who was the suspect? A Bengal Tiger.
Everyone was sure that the Bengal tiger had hunted the missing workers when the devoured carcass of the humans could be found in the forest area within a few days of their absence. The mystery was that no one could figure out how the tiger had hunted them. The missing workers disappeared from the top of the truck. They would usually travel the way by sitting or lying down on the top of the truck load. Even for a tiger it is not easy or usual to pursue a running truck, jump on it and take a prey. Also, none of the other workers saw the tiger attacking on the truck. In fact until their bodies were found, people suspected that the workers had fallen down from the truck inebriated as they usually took to drinking local liquor after their day’s work.
However the Bengal Tiger is a master hunter and an expert at camouflage. The big cat of the jungle had observed these trucks for days. She, a tigress had noticed how it got dark by the time the truck reached a spot where there was a sharp bend. The heavy trucks had to slow down in this bend of the road. She had seen how the labourers would usually be dozing off in the coolness of the evening after a hard day’s work and liquor.
The tigress would wait for the truck and just at the right moment she would mentally mark her pick of the day. She would leap on her prey in the dark evening, aiming straight at his throat and in another moment she was back in the forest with dinner. Everything actually happened in less than a second and noiselessly. Topped by the truck noise and dense forest darkness around them, no one ever saw her.
This thrilling story of the man eating tiger has been beautifully narrated by retired Forest Officer Sangam Lahiry in his book Pugmarks In Palamau. The forest officer recounts how nobody had seen this tiger yet its reputation chilled people to the bone.
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What does a Bengal Tiger eat?
A Bengal tiger mainly hunts of various kinds of deer, gaur (the Indian bison) and wild boar. India’s biggest carnivore beside the lion is an expert at hunting the various kinds of deer like the chital, sambar, barking deer and hog deer. They also go for the big ones like the barasingha and nilgai for its meal. The Bengal Tiger also preys upon the wild boars if the opportunity comes but it has to be careful. Wild boars can be deadly in groups and even the Bengal Tiger has to be careful of its safety if it encounters a herd. It waits for the young or the solitary ones to grab.
A Bengal Tiger would also eat rabbits, hares and smaller animals but it provides very less nutrition for the big cat. One surprising part of its diet is that it would also hunt and eat the hanuman langoor which is commonly found in India. Not only does it hunt the hanuman monkey it would kill and devour predators like leopards and wolves. A Bengal Tiger has been seen to kill jackals, foxes and even the dhole, the Indian wild dog. It would also put up a vicious fight against a bear and would kill and eat it.
Do not think that the mighty elephant is safe from it? If opportunity comes, they will be dinner too. The Bengal Tiger attacking the elephant is a rare event only because the effort of the tiger is more. Every Indian forest has its vicious tale of an elephant hunt by the Bengal Tiger. This proves that how skillful and clever the Bengal Tiger is when it comes to hunting.
What about the bulletproof rhino? Its skin is so thick and tough that weapons cannot pierce it, forget killing it. Plus, it is the grass eating rhino is deadliest when enraged. As unbelievable as it may sound, the rhinoceros also has a predator. The Bengal Tiger, probably the only animal on earth, is deadly and powerful enough to puncture the rhino’s defense and kill it. As unbelievable as it sounds, in 2007 such incidents were recorded in Kaziranga National Park in Assam. 20 rhinos were hunted by the tigers!
Why do tigers hunt on such a wide variety of creatures? Some of these are very dangerous to face for the tiger also. Then there are other carnivores that would not be naturally in its diet.
In India the village people have known the cause for thousands of years. For them the Bengal Tiger is not a beast but a consciousness. They worship the Bengal Tiger as the animal vessel of Goddess Durga, who cares and protects them and the whole of nature.
The faithful believe that a tiger is the fulcrum against which the balance of the forest stays. Therefore The Bengal Tiger hunts on such a varied species of animals – not only to satisfy its hunger but also to maintain the balance of nature. Whenever the number of any species goes high or causes disturbance in the forest, the tiger puts it back into place. In a way, the tiger is the ruler of the forest. They believe that Mother Nature has gifted the tiger and the lion for doing Her work.
Does this theory have any scientific backup? Naturalists believe that the Bengal Tiger is a keystone species. A keystone species means a dominant predator upon which the ecosystem is dependent upon. If a keystone species disappears, it will lead to a misbalance in the ecology as the prey population will increase uncontrollably.
Nature exists on the theory of balance. Say if the Bengal Tiger disappears from a jungle, the population of deer and other herbivores would dramatically increase. It would lead to overgrazing and erosion of soil. This would lead to loss of forest cover and slowly the face of the jungle would change into something else.
It seems that the belief of the villagers are in tandem with the one of the ecologist.
Are tigers man eaters?
There are many stories and myths about tigers being monstrous feeder of men. The fact is a tiger does not become a man eater in natural course. That does not mean that it will not hunt a human in any other case. Like any other predator, the Bengal Tiger would hunt any human being if it gets the occasion in wild or in captivity. That is why it is advised not to keep them as exotic pets.
Many people keep tigers as pets in an effort to get attention. It may act docile for a while but in the core it is still a wild carnivore. It has happened many a times that a pet tiger has shifted into its wild predator form within moments. It is said that if it tastes even a drop of human blood its predator instincts kick in. Naturally for this wild animal humans are food and it is perfectly alright for a predator to go for its prey.
This tigress story we mentioned above also had an explanation. She had an injury in her leg and could not hunt down any wild animal. Only out of starvation the Bengal tigress looked towards man as the easy prey. It seemed easy for her to hunt humans who are neither as quick nor strong as the other wild animals.
The aura of the Bengal Tiger
A Bengal tiger is the perfect charismatic megafauna. Beautiful, large and full of personality, the Bengal Tiger captures everyone’s attention. Out of the many types of tigers found in the world, it is the Bengal Tiger that has the most dominant population.
The aura of the Bengal Tiger is such that it creates a mixed feeling of dread, respect and wonder. In India although the lion is called the king of the jungle, the Bengal Tiger is almost equally venerated.
The Bengal Tiger has been used as a successful brand symbol by many institutes and individuals. The title of a tiger is often bestowed on someone in an effort to describe one’s courage and deed.
Types of tigers around the world
When we speak of the tiger, most of us are not aware that many species and subspecies of tigers are found around the world. However, all species of tigers are found in Asia.
South China Tiger
This species of tigers is considered the oldest forms of the big cat. It looked slightly different from the India tiger with a narrower skull and long muzzled nose. After the 1970, none of these have been spotted in the wild and are considered extinct. Few of them are still alive in captivity.
The scientific name of the Bengal Tiger is Panthera tigris tigris and commonly it is also called the Indian Tiger or the Royal Bengal Tiger. These tigers are one of the biggest tigers you will ever find. They would weigh from 140 – 240 kg. These tigers are found all over India – from the deciduous forests to the mangroves of Sunderbans. India is estimated to have over 1400 wild Bengal tigers.
Other than India the Bengal Tiger is also found in Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan. It used to be found in Pakistan but it has gone extinct, as per the records of IUCN Red List.
The Siberian Tiger competes head to head with the Bengal Tiger in size and weight. Probably due to its thick coat of fur and fat that protects them for the cold weather, the Siberian Tigers are apparently heavier. There is only a few hundred present in Siberian regions of Russia and few in northeast China. At one time it was found all over Mongolia and in North and South Korea. The Siberian Tiger is also referred as the Amur, Manchurian or Ussurian Tiger.
Indochinese and Malayan tiger
The Indochinese Tiger is smaller in size. Its habitat is around southwestern China, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. Less than 350 of these are left in the wild.
The Indochinese Tiger is in a lot of danger due to its demand for traditional medicines in China and the IUCN has called for immediate action if this tiger has to be saved from extinction. This tiger species has already gone extinct in Cambodia.
The Malayan Tiger looks very similar to the Indochinese Tiger. There are only minor differences that make it a subspecies.
Bali and Javan Tiger
The Bali and Javan Tigers were small compared to their Indian and Siberian cousins. Both of these species were found in the Bali and Java islands of Indonesia. None of these species are found today and therefore declared extinct.
The Sumantran is the smallest type of tiger found in the whole world. These tigers are found in Sumatra, the large island of Indonesia. These tigers are also in dire need of protection.
A Maltese Tiger is also called a blue tiger. In the Fujian province of China and parts of Korea, it is reported that these very rare Maltese Tigers have been spotted. They have an unnatural looking coat of bluish fur and stripes that are dark grey in colour. The name Maltese is derived from Malta which is famous for its rare breed to blue furred cats. It is believed that these blue tigers are the result of a natural genetic drift just like it happens with white Bengal Tigers.
The Black Tiger is not a different species but is just like the White Bengal Tiger. Its colour looks dark because the background colour is not so rich and dense to give it the bright yellow hue. The existence of black tigers is quite controversial. These have been spotted from time to time but no proper scientific records exist. Black tigers may be similar to black leopards and panthers whereupon you can actually see the shades of their spots which are darker.
One of the most believable records of a black tiger is in the records of East India Company. Many British officers stationed in India have seen the black tiger in the Indian subcontinent.
Why are tigers endangered or extinct?
The main reason for disappearing tigers is because of poaching. Out of many reasons, there are two main reasons why they are killed. The first is their prized fur which is bought by people to show off their wealth and status. Secondly, there is a high demand of tiger parts to make traditional medicines.
Steps have been taken by the governments of various nations to ban the sale of these goods. But in many countries, tiger items are openly sold and purchased. If we all get aware and boycott on working with those nations and people who are the cause of the tiger’s downfall, maybe we can still save the remaining tigers.
The habitat of the Bengal Tiger
The Bengal Tiger population is about 100 in Bhutan and 120 in Nepal as per WWF records in 2016. About 200 to 400 tigers are estimated to be in the forests of Bangladesh, mainly in the area of the Sunderbans. It is probably the rich and dense mangroves that have protected the tiger populations for so long.
The major population of Bengal Tigers is found in the forests of India. It is estimated that at least 2226 tigers are confirmed in wild according to an assessment in 2014 by the Project Tiger. To protect the habitat of the Bengal tiger, the Government of India founded the Project Tiger under the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
About 70% of the tigers of the world live in the jungles in India and they need to be protected heavily from the poachers. 50 tiger reserves have been created at the areas of the Bengal Tiger’s habitat. An area of 20,674.8 sq mi has been declared as protected tiger reserves.
Apart from these protected areas, more forests are being included in the list. Not only by this, but there many national parks and wildlife sanctuaries that provide safe habitat to the Bengal tiger in India.
Can tigers climb trees and swim?
Usually not. Unlike the leopard that mostly prefers trees, Bengal Tigers do not. But it has been many times that have climbed upon the branches to hunt down a prey like a monkey. But it does not prefer to climb too high or stay on trees for long. The Bengal Tigers can also climb a tree for safety. In the jungles of India, even tigers would avoid a confrontation with a pack of wild dogs and many times it has been seen that they climb a tree to stay out of their way. In the areas of Sunderbans which gets waterlogged during the monsoon, tigers perch upon the tree branches waiting for the flood to recede.
Tigers, like all cats do not like water but inherently they have the ability to swim well. The only exception is the Bengal Tiger that has been seen to swim through the delta regions of Sunderbans to pursue prey and even in some cases, catch fish. This type of behavior has only been seen in the Royal Bengal Tigers of Sunderbans.
Tiger reserves in India
The Project Tiger has identified 50 tiger reserves in India. These tiger reserves are open for tourists. The norm of the tiger reserves in India is to declare the region into core and buffer areas. Tourists and villagers are allowed only till the buffer area. The core area in the tiger reserves of India are strictly protected by armed guards and no visitors are allowed there. If one needs to visit the core area of these tiger reserves in India, proper permission has to be taken from the Forest Department and the person would all times be accompanied by forest guards.
Here is a list of all the tiger reserves in India as distributed in the Indian states-
Here are five tiger reserves in Karnataka – Bandipur, Bhadra, Dandeli-Anshi, Nagarahole and Biligiri Ranganatha Temple
Uttarakhand has one of the most famous forests in India, the Corbett National Park. There are two tiger reserves in the state – Corbett (which also includes Amangarh) and the Rajaji Tiger Reserve.
The state of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have one of the most tiger reserves in India including the popular Bandhavgarh forest. The tiger reserves of MP are Kanha, Pench, Bandhavgarh, Panna, Satpura and Sanjay-Dubri.
Melghat, Tadoba-Andhari, Pench, Sahyadri, Nawegaon-Nagzira and Bor are the six tiger reserves in Maharashtra.
The rich green land of Assam is home to four tiger reserves of India – Manas, Nameri, Kaziranga and Orang Tiger Reserve.
Jharkhand has the Palamau Tiger reserve which is also popularly known as the Betla Forest.
Rajasthan’s Ranthambore is a very popular tourist spot for tiger spotting. There are three tiger reserves in Rajasthan – Ranthambore, Sariska and Mukandra Hills.
The dense forests of Similipal and Satkosia make the perfect den for the Bengal tigers.
Buxa and Sunderbans are the two tiger reserves in West Bengal. The well known Sunderban mangrove forest holds the most number of Bengal tigers in India.
Chattisgarh has three safe havens for tigers – Indravati, Udanti-Sitanadi and Achanakmar.
In the Himalayan forests of Arunachal Pradesh, also there is a fair population of Bengal tigers. Namdapha, Pakke and Kamlang have been declared as Tiger Reserves in India by Project Tiger.
Uttar Pradesh has Dudhwa and Pilibhit Tiger reserves.
Tamil Nadu has safe home for the Bengal Tiger. Kalakad-Mundanthurai, Anamalai, Mudumalai and Sathyamangalam are the four tiger reserves.
The newly formed state of Telengana has two tiger reserves – Kawal and Amrabad.
The beautiful state of Kerala has Periyar and Parambikulam Bengal Tiger reserves.
Bihar, Mizoram and Andhra Pradesh
Bihar, Mizoram and Andhra Pradesh have one Bengal Tiger reserve each – Valmiki, Dampa and Nagarjunsagar Srisailam respectively.
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White Bengal tigers
The naturally occurring white Bengal Tiger is another beautiful creature. The first documented spotting of the white Bengal Tiger was in the area of Rewa in 1951 which was at that time a princely state. The king Martand Singh spotted a cub while out on a hunting. He brought the white cub to his palace, named it Mohan and raised it in his grounds. Mohan was inbred and an effort was made to raise more white tiger cubs.
The first White Tiger Sanctuary was opened for tourists in Mukundpur. Mukundpur is very near to Rewa. Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve is about 150 km away from Rewa.
White Bengal Tigers are naturally found in several forests in India. These big cats turn white not because of albinism as it is commonly believed. It is due to a condition called leucism which leads to particular discolouration. Actually these Bengal tigers lack the rich yellow hue, thus turning whitish. Leucism is not uncommon in animals and humans. It can be seen in birds like crows and peacocks.
This condition of the White Bengal Tiger can also be seen in other animals like the deer, giraffe, wolf, raccoons and many other species. It has also been seen to afflict crocodiles and a rare white crocodile can be spotted in Bhitarkanika.
Nobody actually knows why or when the yellow tigers turn white although there have been theories. As long as these occur naturally without any external interference, we should definitely enjoy this beautiful creation of nature.
As there are only few White Bengal Tigers, efforts have been made to breed and increase them in the wild. But being white is not camouflage friendly for the Bengal Tiger. It depends upon its hiding skills to hunt for its food. The natural yellow and black body is a wonderful camouflage suit but the white one is not that effective.
Outside India, many zoos and private keepers have tried to raise white tigers but the result has been disastrous. These sort of forced breeding and genetic manipulations have given birth to defective and diseased tigers. Some are born with kidney and respiratory problems, some have distorted spines and neck, while others have crossed eyes and other such physical failings. Naturalists condemn these as going against Mother Nature to create creatures for show business is cruel and strict animal abuse.
There are some sanctuaries in India where we can spot the white tigers in the wild-
Mukundpur and Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh
Mukundpur near Rewa is about 75 hectares dedicated to the white Bengal Tiger. Just 150 km away from Mukundpur, the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve is also believed to have the White Bengal Tiger. But the tigers may roam from one forest area to the other making it very difficult to pin point one.
Assam, Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal
The forests of Assam like the Kaziranga to the forests of West Bengal have random spotting of White Bengal Tigers from time to time.
Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve
Recently in 2017, the rare White Bengal Tiger was spotted in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve in Tamil Nadu. The forest officials have kept the location of the spot undisclosed for safety concerns.
Credits: projecttiger.nic.in,bbc.com/news/world-asia-30896028, thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/white-tiger-in-the-nilgiris-is-a-first/article19217223.ece, Wikipedia