DESCRIPTION: Males weigh in at 396 to 569 pounds and measure 8-feet-11-inches to 10-feet-2-inches long. Females weigh 220 to 352 pounds and range from 7-foot-10-inches to 8-foot-9-inches long. The underside of the Bengal is clean white; its black stripes on an orange background color are widely spaced. The stripes are like fingerprints: no two patterns arealike.
A mutation of the Bengal subspecies, white tigers have dark brown or reddish brown stripes on a white background color, and some are wholly white. Black tigers have tawny, yellow or white stripes on a black background color. The skin of a black tiger, recovered from smugglers, measured 8 1/2 feet and was displayed at the National Museum of Natural History, New Delhi. The existence of blacktigers without stripes has been reported but not substantiated.
STATUS: Endangered. The Cat Specialist Group of IUCN reported in 1995 an approximate 3,250 to 4,700 Bengal tigers living wild in remnant populations scattered mainly throughout India, but also in Bangladesh, Bhutan, southern China, western Myanmar and Nepal.
"We don't know how many tigers there are in India," says John Seidensticker,chairman of Save the Tiger Fund Council. "The real firebrands in India will tell you its just horrible; that things are bad. Others will say that where we've done it right, we still have tigers."
India probably lays claim to about two-thirds of the world's wild tigers, according to the Cat Specialist Group. But Indian censuses of wild tigers have relied on the individual identification offootprints (known as pug marks), a method widely criticized for its inaccuracy.
An area of special interest lies in northeast India where 11 protected areas are found in the Terai Arc, comprising dry forest foothills and dune valleys at the base of the Himalayas. "The whole idea," says Seidensticker, "is to maintain the connection between them, to create a necklace (of habitat) along the Nepal-Indiaborder, involving 1,000 miles from the Royal Chitwan National Park to Cobett National Park."
Once a royal hunting reserve, Chitwan became a national park in 1973. New economic incentives give villagers a direct stake in this renowned tourist attraction, with more than a third of revenues from park entrance fees being returned to the 300,000 people living in 36 villages in the surrounding buffer zone.As a result, locals are now creating and managing tiger habitat and consider themselves guardians of their tigers.
Rivaling Chitwan for the title of the world's best tiger habitat is the Western Ghats forest complex in southwestern India, an area of 14,400 square miles stretching across several protected areas. The challenge here, as throughout most of Asia, is that people live literally on topof the wildlife. The Save the Tiger Fund Council estimates that 7,500 landless people live, illegally, inside the boundaries of the 386-square-mile Nagaahole National Park in southwestern India. A voluntary if controversial resettlement is underway with the aid of the Karnataka Tiger Conservation Project led by Ullas Karanth of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Nepal, with a maximum of 200 tigerssplit into three isolated and vulnerable sub-populations, reports stability after a serious decline.
To the east of Nepal, in Bhutan, scientists in this small Buddhist kingdom have evidence of a richer tiger population than previously estimated. Camera traps snapped photos of a wild tiger high in the Himalayas, at the surprising elevation of 13,000 feet. This offers new possibilities forsuitable tiger habitat.
Zoo population: Indian zoos have bred tigers since 1880, the first time being at the Alipore Zoo in Calcutta. There are more than 300 in captivity, mostly in India.
The tiger (Panthera tigris), a member of the Felidae family, is the largest of the four "big cats" in the genus Panthera. The tiger is native to much of eastern and southern Asia, and is an apex...