Bengal Tiger
Panthera tigris tigris

 
 
 
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What Are They Like?

The Bengal tiger, also known as the Royal Bengal tiger, is the most numerous of six tiger subspecies still living on Earth. These beautiful big cats are endangered, however, with fewer than 2,000 animals remaining in the wild. Bengal tigers grow to 13 feet (4 meters) long, and males weigh between 400 and 675 pounds (181-376 kilograms). Female tigers are generally smaller. A Bengal tiger’s coat is a yellow to light orange, with stripes that range from dark brown to black. The tiger’s belly is white, and its tail is white with black rings. A rare mutation of the Bengal subspecies, the white tiger, has dark brown or reddish brown stripes on a white background.

Where Do They Live?

The Bengal tiger is found in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, China, Myanmar and Bhutan, with the largest numbers found in India. One of the largest populations of Bengal tigers lives in the Sundarbans Delta at the mouth of the Ganges River, an island region of mangrove forests that is shared by Bangladesh and India. Bengal tigers are forest dwellers and, with adequate territory, water and prey, can adapt and make their homes in almost any kind of forest habitat.

 
Did You Know?
Only half of all tiger cubs survive to the age of two, and of those who survive, less than half (40 percent) live to establish their own territories.

How Are Babies Made?

Mating can occur at any time, but usually occurs between November and April. Female Bengal tigers have a gestation period of 100 to 112 days, after which they give birth to a litter of two to three blind and helpless cubs. During their first 18 months, tiger cubs must depend on their mother for food before they start hunting on their own. Tiger cubs reach maturity and begin to seek their own territory at four years of age.

What Do They Eat?

Bengal tigers are strict carnivores, hunting a variety of animals including buffalo, deer, wild boar and other large mammals. When human settlements come too close to a tiger’s territory, tigers also may prey on goats and cattle. Occupying a niche at the top of the food chain, Bengal tigers have also been known to eat other predators such as leopards, cheetahs, wolves and bears.

 
Did You Know?
The Bengal tiger's roar can be heard from almost two miles away.

What Do They Do?

Unlike lions, tigers are solitary animals that do not live in family groups. Bengal tigers are mostly nocturnal and hunt between twilight and dawn by ambushing their prey. A tiger can travel between six and 20 miles in a single night looking for food. Tigers use their body weight to knock prey to the ground, and kill with a lethal bite to the neck. Tigers have also been known to kill prey while swimming. They are strong swimmers, and can haul their kill through the water before eating it.

How Concerned Should We Be?

The Bengal tiger, while the most numerous of the world’s remaining tiger subspecies, is still classified as “Endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), meaning that wild populations could become extinct without strict conservation measures. Illegal hunting of tigers and loss of habitat are the main culprits in the tiger’s decline. Even though trade in tiger fur and body parts is strictly prohibited by international law under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), tiger poaching is still a huge and lucrative business on the international black market. Poachers kill tigers for their bones, fur and teeth, and to make Chinese medicines that are alleged to impart the tiger's strength to the human who consumes them. The hunting of tigers for such “medicine” and fur is the biggest cause of the tiger’s decline.

A new and serious threat to the Bengal tiger is global climate change. According to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), global warming is already causing some of the islands in the Sundarbans (most recently, New Moore Island [create a link to Conservation Connect story on New Moore I.]) to disappear. Further sea level rise from climate change could mean the disappearance of 96 percent of the Sundarbans’ remaining tiger habitat, reducing the total population to fewer than 20 breeding tigers.

What's Being Done?

Many organizations around the world are working to conserve tigers by advocating for strict enforcement of anti-poaching laws and working to preserve critical tiger habitat. India has created 37 different tiger reserves in 17 different states. The government of Bangladesh has made a commitment to conserve the mangrove forests of the Sundarban Delta that are threatened by both development and climate change.

The International Tiger Coalition has brought together more than 40 organizations that are now working together to end the illegal trade in tiger skins, teeth, and body parts. The World Bank is leading a Global Tiger Initiative, working to secure political commitment from nations around the globe to assure that wild tigers have a future.

 

Last Chance for the Wild Tiger?

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