The Bengal Tiger, Panthera tigris tigris, is the largest member of the cat family. It is undoubtedly one of the most magnificent animals on the planet - visually iconic, with its vibrant striped body and striking eyes. The subspecies is also known as the Indian Tiger (where it is primarily found) and is an integral part of that country’s rich culture.
Members of this subspecies measure between five and six feet from the head to the end of the body. The tail can add an additional three feet to their length. Males can weigh up to an impressive 500lbs, although females usually weigh around 240-340lbs. The animals have thick legs, large teeth and powerful jaws, and each has a unique pattern of dark stripes on their coat, with rings around the tail. In the wild, they can live up to ten years.
Habitat and Distribution
Their preferred habitat is in marshes, tropical rainforests and amongst tall grasses. Although there are some small populations in Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh, the largest population of Bengals is in India. As with many species of wildlife, their habitats are threatened by logging and the encroachment of humans onto their territories, which can lead to attacks on livestock.
Females reach *** maturity at three or four years of age. When pregnant, thegestation period is around 15 weeks, after which they give birth to a litter of two to six cubs. The cubs are breastfed for six months before the mother teaches them how to hunt.
Cubs stay with the motherfor two or three years and the males have no part in raising the young. In fact, the main threat to young cubs in the wild is from adult males who want to mate with their mother.
Threats to Survival
Sadly, populations of these big cats havedeclined in recent decades. As fewer than 4,000 remain, the species is now considered endangered and at very high risk of extinction in the wild. Their primary threat to survival comes from habitat loss and poaching, which is motivated by a demand for their body parts in China (where traditional medicines use them to treat various disorders).
A Close Encounter on aTiger Safari
The only way to encounterthese beautiful creatures in a safe and responsiblewayis to observe them in their natural habitat on a Tiger safari. Reserves in India, such as the Kanha, Pench, Bandhavgarh and Panna National Parks, offer excellent opportunities for those on aTiger safari to appreciate thebeauty of these magnificent animals.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Tiger watching. As a passionate lover of wildlife, Marissa chooses the expert-led Tiger safari itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of species in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.