Written by:Krithish Haldorai(U5914902)
With around 3900 tigers (Panthera tigris) worldwide nearly 70% of the World’s tigers reside in India. The tiger population has increased by 30 % alone in the Indian Subcontinent.
One of the most beautiful beasts in nature this species is considered as “Keystone” species in the sub – tropical forests. Tigers are the largest cat species in the world and are classified as endangered by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). These predators can grow up to 3.3 metres (up to 11 ft.) of body length and weigh about 306 kg (675 pounds). During the past 100 years, the magnificent beast has almost lost 90% of its natural habitat ranging from Turkey in the west to Russia in the east.
Image captured in Ranthambore tiger reserve (Rajasthan, India) during 2015
Why tigers are important species in the Indian ecosystem?
Tigers are the top most species on the ecosystem pyramid and their protection is the key to the life of the forest it prevails. The Reserves conserve the forest stock in the dense forests of the Indian subcontinent. The country also acquires monetary benefits from improved ecosystem services worth millions. These well-preserved forests are a natural source of carbon reduction and home to a distinct variety of flora and fauna.
Countries where Tigers can be found
Tiger population has drastically decreased in this century with many sub-species of tigers getting extinct. There are at least 10 known sub-species of tigers mainly: Bengal tiger, Indo-Chinese tiger, Sumatran tiger, Siberian tiger or Amur tiger, South China tiger and Malayan tiger. There are also four sub-species of tigers that have been completely extinct from our planet: Caspian tiger, Javan tiger, Bali tiger and Trinil (extinct during the prehistoric period).
Map showing the distribution of tiger Source: tigerhomes.org
Tigers are mainly found in countries like India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia, Thailand, Nepal and Vietnam. The current decade has shown some positive signs for tiger population around the world with the first increase in the species has been recorded in the past 100 years. The major contribution to this change has been from India.
My experience with the Beast
The dream of every nature enthusiast from the sub-continent region is to spot the tiger in the wild. I was fortunate to experience the nerve-wracking moment which happened earlier this year during my visit to the Mukurthi National park (11°16′N, 76°28.5′E) located 40 km from my hometown Ooty. The National park at an elevation from 1100 to 2600 metres is known for its shola forests along with its montane shrublands and grasslands.
The view of Mukurthi Peak taken from the National park – January 2016
We managed to get permission to enter the well-preserved park which also is home to the Nilgiri Tahr (goat- like species) which is another endangered species thriving in these forests. We were a group of 3 friends who wanted to explore some of Nature’s beauty but at that moment we were not aware that this experience would become one of the best moments in our lives.
The two-day visit to the park started with a 30 km bumpy ride through thick mountainous forests which could be covered only by the special forest Jeep. We stayed in a fishing hut almost near the heart of the Mukurthi National Park. With a well-packed lunch and a cool evening by the stream, we could not have expected for a more relaxing day.
The view of the stream in Mukurthi National Park
One important feature of this place was it isolated from the modern world. With no electricity and mobile phone coverage this place gave us a unique feeling. We were excited by the forest surrounding and started on an early morning walk just before sunrise.
We had just walked a few hundred metres from the fishing hut when we noticed a herd of Blackbucks. We walked forward when we first realised a strong scent of predator urine in our path, generally tigers mark their territory with urine and anal gland secretions. We continued forward with great caution stopping at curves listening to the sounds in the forests. The forest around us started getting denser and the thick overstorey made the forest dark even with the sunlight above us.
The path during our early morning walk- January 2016
We followed the path to reach a small creek where we found fresh pugmarks of the predator. With our hearts beating at full speed we were unsure to proceed any further. Generally, there are three signs to predators in the wild: pugmarks, Scent of urine and fresh nail marks on trees.
We stood by the creek analysing the pug marks when we heard a tiger roar maybe a few hundred metres ahead of us. With our hearts pounding hard we moved to a higher ground where we listened to the continuous roar of the predator. Unable to see our path ahead of us in the thick forest we decided to return back and left the tiger undisturbed. I am sure we were very close to having a glimpse of the majestic beast but the experience also made me realise that the path belonged to the tiger and that we were in its territory.
Successful tiger Conservation in India
The main project that was initiated to save the tiger population was called the ‘Project Tiger’ which was started in 1973 by the Indian government. In order to protect the national animal, the tiger task force was initiated by the National Tiger Conservation Authority in 2005.
Graph showing the tiger population growth due to conservation measures
Currently, there are 47 exclusive tiger reserves in India and the Government has also planned to add another 10 reserves in the near future. With modern methods like camera trapping, images captured using drones the results have now become more credible.
Image captured in Ranthambore tiger reserve (Rajasthan, India) during 2015
Many of the tiger reserves have been instrumental in setting up the ‘Eco-sensitive zone’, It is a 10 km zone from the reserve where no mining, Industries and hotels can be set up. Many tiger countries are set to adapt the Indian methodology to conserve tigers. Experts and scientist in India consider that tiger population indicates the health of forest apex in the country. The positive conservation measures have been welcomed by the scientific community throughout the world. It is, therefore, crucial to ‘ walk behind the tiger’ and implement conservation measures for other endangered species.
I would like to thank the Nilgiri Wildlife Association for granting us permission to visit the park.
My friend/Wildlife photographer Prajwal Rajappa for providing the pictures of the tigers.
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