The Indian tiger is the most recognizable subspecies of tigers, because it is their image that is popularized in popular culture. These are predators that live in the forests, steppes and swamps of the Indian subcontinent. Their coloring attracts attention, and therefore tigers can often be seen in zoos – but they are not at all harmless pets, but animals dangerous to people.
Origin of the species and description
With the help of genetics, it was possible to find out that tigers separated from their common ancestors with other representatives of the panther genus much earlier than the separation of lions, jaguars and leopards occurred. Because of this, they stand apart from other panthers in many ways.
Their closest genetic relatives are snow leopards, even though they do not belong to the panther genus. According to scientists, tigers evolved more slowly than other large cats, and their structural features are largely archaic.
Finally, in the form of a tiger stood out in the Pliocene. Scientists consider Panthera palaeosinensis, inhabitants of northern China, much smaller in size than tigers, to be the closest ancestors.
To date, 6 subspecies of the tiger have survived, including the Indian one, and 3 more have died out. Approximately 110,000 years ago, their numbers decreased significantly, it was after this that modern subspecies were formed, in the conditions of the evolution of geographically disjointed populations separately from each other.
The scientific description of the tiger was first given in the final edition of Carl Linnaeus' System of Nature, in 1758. Then he was given the name in Latin Felis tigris. It was changed to modern, Panthera tigris for the species as a whole, and Panthera tigris tigris for the Indian subspecies, in 1929 when Reginald Powcock established their genus as panthers.
Appearance and Features
Indian tigers are the largest cats in the wild. The length of an adult male can reach 280-290 cm, and the height at the withers – up to 110-115 cm. Weight reaches 300 kg and may even exceed this mark. The body is flexible and muscular, with a well-developed front.
The head is large, the front part strongly protrudes forward, the cheekbones are widely spaced. The ears are rather modest in size and rounded, pupils with a yellow iris. The teeth are sharp and strong, the tiger has 30 teeth in total.
Video: Indian tiger
There are five fingers on the front paws, and four on the back. Each finger ends in a long claw that can serve as a formidable weapon. The tail is long and fluffy, with a black tip. Sexual dimorphism is expressed mainly by the difference in size – males are larger and weigh a third more.
The Indian tiger usually lives for a short time – 8-10 years. A predator that has lived to 13-15 years old becomes much slower, which complicates the extraction of food. Because of this, he continues to weaken and dies. But even in captivity, the life expectancy of the Indian tiger does not grow much – only up to 16-18 years.
The characteristic color is the most recognizable sign of a tiger. Shades can vary from pronounced dark brown to almost indistinguishable from black, from light yellow to deep orange.
There are black and white Indian tigers. These are not albinos – their eyes are blue, not red, this is how the recessive gene manifests itself. Tigers of this color are very rare, and are mostly kept in captivity: the color of the skin prevents them from hunting, because they are very distinguished, and besides, they have weak immunity.
Photo: Predatory Indian Tiger
This subspecies does not have one large habitat – separate foci are scattered over a vast territory. This is due to the small total number of Indian tigers. They can live in forests of various types – evergreen, semi-evergreen, wet and dry, as well as prickly. They inhabit mangrove coastal swamps and steppes. The main thing that tigers need for a comfortable life is the proximity of drinking water, rich wildlife and dense thickets.
Most of the tigers live in India. They can be found in various parts of this country, from the northern border and center to the west coast. Nepalese tigers live in the very south of the country, near the border with India, in the foothills of the Himalayas – Terai. Their relief and abundant wildlife are ideal for these predators, and besides, this territory is protected.
There are few tigers in small Bhutan, but they are scattered almost throughout the entire territory of the state, and in Bangladesh, on the contrary, a much larger number of them live quite compactly – in the Sundarban region in the southwest, in the mangrove forests growing in it.
Tiger cubs love to climb trees, but as they grow they become too large and massive, which is why they stop doing it.
Photo: Indian tiger in nature
Diet consists almost entirely of meat, mostly herbivores.
Often in the paws of the tiger fall:
- wild boars;
- roe deer;
- elephant calves.
Hungry tigers can also attack predators – wolves or boas, even related leopards. Usually, a tiger can deal with other predators without problems, the main thing is to catch up – not only loners, but even entire packs of wolves are afraid of it. But it's much more difficult with bears – and in the Himalayas, these animals can also come into conflict.
A young tiger can attack a porcupine and get a whole set of its sharp quills. This can end sadly for the predator: if the needles pierce into hard-to-reach places, and it is not possible to get them, there is a risk of wound suppuration. The animal becomes weak and may even die. But if everything ends well for him, then henceforth the predator will bypass porcupines.
Tigers are excellent swimmers and can catch fish, turtles or frogs. Sometimes even small crocodiles are caught and eaten. Tigers diversify their menu with fruits and nuts – but their nutritional value is low, and therefore only a well-fed tiger can feast on them.
Thanks to the fat layer under the skin, they can go without food for a long time, and at the same time remain full of energy – after all sometimes hunting does not bring results for a long time, but you need to save energy for the next attempts. But, satisfying hunger, the animal can eat up to 50 kg of meat at a time. If something remains, the predator tries to mask the prey with grass in order to finish it next time.
Tigers have a good immune system, surpassing most other predators in this. It allows you to eat already decaying meat, as well as to catch old and sick animals – there are usually no unpleasant consequences for tigers due to the use of their meat.
They always settle near a river or other fresh water body, because they you have to drink a lot. In addition, tigers like to swim in the heat: predators that have eaten can lie down for a long time on the shallows in cool water. They sleep most of the day – 15-18 hours.
Character and Lifestyle Features
The main occupation to which tigers devote most of their waking time is hunting. Large size does not always help in the search for food – because of their weight, tigers are not able to pursue their prey for a long time, and they are forced to calculate their actions well in order to kill it as quickly as possible.
They prefer to hunt in the morning and at sunset – at dusk, their camouflage works best, orange fur blends into the sun on the horizon. But they can go hunting at any other time – even in the middle of the day, even at night – excellent hearing and sharp eyesight allow.
They sneak up on the victim from the leeward side so that she could not smell them. They are patient, can wait motionless for a long time, follow the victim and wait for the best moment to attack. They try to get close so that they can jump and prevent the prey from running away – and the tigers jump very far, up to 10 meters.
Jumping, they can kill a medium-sized animal by biting it in the neck. If it is the size of the hunter himself or even larger, the tiger begins to choke him. If the prey still notices the tiger before the impact and has to pursue it, then the predator can reach very high speeds – up to 60-65 km/h.
Most tigers do not attack people, and even predators, but in some cases their behavior changes. Often this is due to the old age of the animal and the loss of its former speed and agility. If it can no longer get food by hunting fast and shy targets, then it can start catching slower ones.
Adult tigers live in solitude, each of them occupies a vast territory – its area can reach 30-100 square kilometers. It is protected by the tiger from other large predators and from fellow tribesmen. Although the territories occupied by males and females sometimes overlap, males can also share their prey with females.
Social structure and reproduction
Females start breeding at 3-3.5 years old, males on average a year later. After the start of the mating season, which falls on December-January, the male is looking for females ready for mating, occupying the lands adjacent to him. He determines readiness by the smell of urine.
After that, they can find together from 3 weeks to 2 months, then the male returns to his territory. All further care for the offspring will lie with the female. Although the behavior of males may vary: in some cases, their communication with cubs was observed.
Pregnancy lasts 3.5 months. Childbirth takes place in a secluded place, like a cave, which can serve as a protection for small tiger cubs. They are born from 1 to 5, and at first they are completely helpless: they have no teeth, hearing and vision. Immediately after birth, they have very thick fur, which eventually falls out.
Teeth grow by 2 months, after which the cubs can eat meat. From the same age, the tigress takes them hunting for training. They hunt on their own from 12-18 months, and stay with their mother until 2-3 years, after which they go to occupy their own territory. Only then can the tigress give birth again.
Young females leaving their parents usually occupy lands relatively nearby, becoming neighbors with their mothers. Males go much further. According to the researchers, this reduces the risk of inbreeding by reducing the likelihood of mating between related tigers in the next generation.
Natural enemies of Indian tigers
Since tigers are the largest and most powerful predators, they have few natural enemies. Yes, and they make those themselves – no one (except humans) attacks tigers, they can also fight with such strong animals as bears – and the outcome of the conflict may turn out to be different.
Also, troubles can end an attempt to hunt elephants if their parents are angry – however, tigers are dexterous enough not to let themselves be trampled, except for the oldest ones. An angry white rhino can also be quite dangerous.
Red wolves are afraid of tigers even in packs, however, the tigers themselves can attack them. This can happen if wolves invade their territory – tigers do not tolerate this. An attack can lead a tiger to death – it happened that a flock managed to defeat a much stronger, but lonely predator.
Danger for old tigers or young cubs that have not calculated their strength can be represented by large billhooks – hunting for them sometimes ends in severe injuries or death of the hunter himself. It is also dangerous to hunt gaurs – large wild bulls weighing up to two tons.
Tigers can produce common offspring with some other felines.
The most famous are hybrids from crossing with lions:
- tiger lion is a cross between a tiger and a lioness. Relatively small in size and weight (up to 150 kg), according to zoologists, this hybrid is able to survive in the wild;
- A liger is a cross between a tigress and a lion. Outwardly, it looks more like the latter, but is noticeably larger and has stripes on the skin. In nature, it is not able to survive, but females can bring offspring;
- a liliger is a cross between a liger and a lion. The animal is similar to a lion with small features inherited from a tiger;
- a taligr is a cross between a liger and a tiger. Looks like a very large, paler tiger.
Population and Species Status
The main enemy of the tiger does not live in wild nature. As is the case with many other animals, man became his main enemy. It is because of the activities of people that the population of Indian tigers has decreased by orders of magnitude. The reasons were deforestation and poaching.
The tiger is a valuable prey, because its skin can be sold very expensively. Yes, and the bones are considered healing according to local beliefs, and are used to make various folk remedies. Tiger fangs and claws are used as amulets
At the beginning of the 20th century, the total number of Indian tigers was estimated at about 100,000 individuals. Then nothing threatened the subspecies, but then the situation began to change rapidly. Throughout the century, tiger poaching and civilization encroached on their habitat, bringing the total number down to 3,200 in 2010.
Fortunately, this was the low point of the ongoing conservation efforts tigers began to bear fruit, and in subsequent years their population stopped falling. So, in Nepal, it doubled in just ten years: in 2009 there were 120 of them, and in 2019 – 240.
About 3,000 tigers live in India. There are 60-80 in Bhutan and the total Bangladeshi population is estimated at 200-210 individuals. In total, by 2019, there are 3,880 – 3,950 Indian tigers in the wild. Since their numbers remain low, they are included in the International Red Data Book with EN (Endangered) status.
Indian Tiger Conservation
Due to the sharp decline in the number of Indian tigers, the governments of the countries in which they live have taken this subspecies under protection. A significant part of their population lives in protected areas, which greatly complicates the dirty work of poachers.
There is also a plan to double the number of tigers in all countries where they live by 2022, adopted by all these states. Its implementation is already underway, somewhere the results are obvious (and in Nepal, a doubling has already been achieved), somewhere not.
The Indian government has created 8 new protected areas in which tigers live in order to preserve their most large and viable populations. Additional funding was provided to secure a vast area and resettle some 200,000 people who lived on or near the land.
There are also programs where tiger cubs, motherless or born in captivity, are trained to develop their predatory instincts and then released back into the wild. Many of these tigers have successfully taken root after training. There was even a project for their introduction in the Republic of South Africa, but it was not implemented – perhaps in the future this or a similar experiment will still be carried out.
Interesting fact: tigers are also exterminated because local residents – old predators can become cannibals. To scare them away, when moving through an area that can be inhabited by tigers, the last person in the group puts a mask with painted eyes on the back of the head. Because of this, the tiger can be confused and not find the right moment to attack.
The Indian tiger is extremely important, not only because none of the species inhabiting our planet should be lost, but also because of the risk of chaos in the ecosystem they inhabit. Their disappearance can lead to an unpredictable chain effect, due to which the nature of the entire region will change. Although the tiger is a strong predator, it needs human help to survive.