Tigers are magnificent animals – the largest of the big cats. The tiger is revered around the world and the national animal of Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Malaysia and South Korea. They feature in ancient mythology and folklore, and in modern films and literature. They appear on many flags, coats of arms, and as mascots for sporting teams.
We have lost 97% of wild tigers in just over a century. Tigers may be one of the most revered animals, but they are also vulnerable to extinction. Tigers face pressure from poaching, retaliatory killings (for killing livestock) and habitat loss. As few as 3,200 exist in the wild today. The World Wildlife Fund is working to eliminate poaching and double wild tiger numbers by 2022 – please support them.
It is a dream of mine to be able to see a tiger in the wild. On a trip to India I went on 4 safaris in 3 different wildlife parks in the hope of seeing one – but unfortunately with no success. We were in the vicinity of tigers a couple of times: once we could hear all the alarm calls from the other animals nearby and the second time the park rangers had tracking devices so they knew that a mother and her cubs were nearby; but we had to leave the parks at dusk before we got the chance to actually see them.
Our guide Bhanu had worked in Bandhavgarh National Park and shared some of his photos with me: of a male Bengal tiger that he had seen grow from a cub to a young adult. The male left the park and they don’t know if he is still alive. Bandhavgarh is one of several National Parks in India set up by Project Tiger in the 1970s. There are about 1700 tigers in Bandhavgarh Park now compared with 40,000 in the 1960s. The drastic decline is due to poachers and some tigers are killed by villagers after they kill their cattle. The same story is true for all the other National Parks.
Recently I have been watching a BBC documentary series on TV called “Tigers about the House”. It was filmed at Australia Zoo in 2013-14 and follows Giles Clark, British Tiger expert and Head of Big Cats at Australia Zoo, as he hand-rears the most genetically important Sumatran tigers in the world – brothers, Spot and Stripe (now called Clarence and Hunter). To ensure the cubs survival, Giles took Spot and Stripe home to live with his family for the first 4 months of their lives.
There is a follow on series “Tigers about the House: What Happened Next” that follows their lives as Giles and his fellow keepers continue with the hands-on approach when the cubs are back at the zoo. This series shows the rest of their first year of development, and is a delightful (and sometimes sad) story of the early milestones in their lives. It also shows how the zoo is making the most of the public interest in the cubs to help raise money to support projects in Sumatra to stop tiger poaching. Numbers of tigers in the wild in Sumatra are now below 400.
You can help support those tigers too by visiting the zoo – you can have a photo opportunity with the tigers or adopt a tiger. You can also support by making purchases at their online store, such as copies of the videos and some very cute photos of the cubs. There is lots of information about their conservation efforts on the website and all the profits from the tiger section go to support the work in Sumatra.
If you are interested in finding out more about tigers, there are some great documentaries available:
This is a BBC Documentary narrated by David Attenborough where “elephants carrying spycams are used to track the lives of four tiger cubs and their mother in the wild. In unbelievably intimate footage, we watch the cubs progress from their first playful sorties from their den and on through their learning adolescence. ”
This is another BBC Documentary series which follows a scientific expedition to the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. The expedition team is made up of specialist zoologists, explorers and the BBC crew. They explore wilderness areas from the lowland jungles to high-altitude slopes, in search of rare animals and plants. The focus of the expedition is to investigate the status of the tiger in Bhutan, where little is known of the cat’s distribution or population density. Evidence of a healthy population of tigers would elevate Bhutan’s importance as a sanctuary for this endangered species. It would also support tiger conservationist Dr. Alan Rabinowitz’s proposal for a vast protected corridor linking the fragmented pockets of tiger habitat which lie to the south of the Himalayas.
This DVD didn’t live up to the promise of its over-hyped description but it is a very interesting adaptation of original footage following Jim Corbett (1875 – 1955), who was originally a tiger hunter in India and ended up pioneering wildlife conservation there.
“Jim Corbett was a legendary Indian hunter and tracker-turned-conservationist, author and naturalist, famous for hunting a large number of man-eating tigers and leopards in India. He held the rank of colonel in the British Indian Army and was frequently called upon by the government of theUnited Provinces, now the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, to kill man-eating tigers and leopards that were preying on people in the nearby villages of the Garhwal and Kumaon regions. His hunting successes earned him longstanding respect and fame in Kumaon. Some even claim the locals considered him a sadhu (holy man).
Corbett was an avid photographer and after his retirement authored Man-Eaters of Kumaon, Jungle Lore, and other books recounting his hunts and experiences, which enjoyed critical acclaim and commercial success. Later on in life, Corbett spoke out for the need to protect India’s wildlife from extermination and played a key role in creating a national reserve for the endangered Bengal tiger by using his influence to persuade the provincial government to establish it. In 1957 the national park was renamed Jim Corbett National Park in his honour.”