October 16: A few months ago, the accidental death of a dozen Royal Bengal tigers, at an Orissa zoo, shocked the nation. The news made headlines and gradually got relegated to the inside pages of newspapers before vanishing altogether. Yes, public memory is notoriously short and people eventually forgot about the whole episode.
Now, yet another tiger death has shaken us out of our apathy. The gruesome slaughter of a young Bengal Tiger (Saki) at the Hyderabad zoo has once again highlighted the utter negligence on the part of zoo officials.
It has been more than a week since the poachers killed and skinned one-year-old Saki, but the police are still stumbling around for clues. Also, the Zoo authorities are at a loss to explain how the poachers managed to scale the 20-foot high enclosure wall, undetected.
What is particularly strange is, the carcass was discovered the very next morning, yet an official complaint was registered only later in the evening.
These and other questions must be answered. The Andhra Pradesh government insists it will leave no stone unturned in their bid to book all those involved in the gristly murder. It is a shame indeed, that our country, which boasts the largest tiger population in the world, cannot ensure the safety of these prized endangered mammals.
As per last year’s census, the world population of wild tigers stands at about 5,000-7,000. The most numerous are the Bengal tigers – distributed in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. (The Bengal tigers, account for over two-thirds of the wild tiger population).
In total, there are five existing tiger species of which the Sumatran, Siberian, and South Chinese – are considered critically endangered; while the Bengal and Indochinese are endangered.
The two subspecies of tigers – the rare Siberian tiger and the Bengal tiger are often confused. Both the tigers have thick yellow fur with dark stripes, however the Bengal tiger is smaller and more brightly coloured. The tiger on the island of Sumatra is even smaller and has much darker stripes.
According to the 1998 census, there are approximately:
3,100-4,500 Bengal tigers (found in the Indian subcontinent),
1,200-1,700 Indochinese tigers (found in southeast Asia),
400-500 Sumatran tigers (in the Indonesian island of Sumatra),
350-400 Siberian tigers (in northeast Asia)
20-30 South Chinese tigers.
The tiger, as we know it, is believed to have originated in northern Asia, about 2.5 million years ago. The tiger population spread southward thereafter, crossing the Himalayas only about 10,000 years ago. Tigers are the largest members of the cat family and are closely related to lions, leopards, and jaguars.
Contrary to common belief, tigers are not man-eaters. Their diet consists of wild pigs, wild cattle and deer. If there is an acute food shortage (or an injury which renders the tiger incapable of stalking fast-moving prey), only then do the animals target human settlements.
Incredible as this may sound, a tiger averages only 40 to 50 kills per year (or 1 kill every eight days). Female tigers with young cubs hunt more often. After gorging, at the site of the kill, tigers drag the carcass to a safe place where they can consume it over a period of a few days. Hunting resumes several days later, when the tiger is hungry again.