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In Peril: India's Royal Bengal Tiger
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A national symbol as well as a religious icon, the tiger is seen everywhere in India, including in their currency, stamps, sculpture, paintings, literature and mythololgy. Yet, despite being revered by civilization and religion for thousands of years, the wild tiger is still disappearing at an alarming rate. In counts of 2001-02 the Indian tiger population was 3,642 tigers. The Wildlife Institute of India places the present population at no more than 1,500 tigers, a 2,200 loss.
 
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During a 100 year period, from 1850 to 1950, 100,000 tigers were killed by man.

Despite land being set aside for the tigers, lack of appropriate enforcement and anti-poaching patrols have left the door wide open for ongoing and unchecked illegal trade in animal skins and tiger parts.
 
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Always facinated by the tiger, I had never seen one in the wild. On a trip to Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal, hints to their presence were all around the forest in the form of footprints (left) and claw marks in trees (below). Not until a trip to India in March, 2005 did I find the amazing stealth, power and beauty of the tiger.

On a hot evening, while driving the dusty roads of India's Rathambhore National Park, our time to see the tiger in the park was running out. We rounded a curve rising out of the wooded valley to encounter a group of workers in the park who said "the tigers passed here about 20 minutes ago." The driver turned the Gypsy jeep around and stepped on the gas. We literally passed the tigers on the road just minutes before without seeing them in the thick growth.

Rapidly decending back into the valley, the familiar canyon walls shaded the road. At an intersection of narrow roads, we veered left in a cloud of dust and sped towards a well known watering hole where tigers had been seen in previous days.



 

Passing a dry boulder strewn river bed, the warm evening sunlight was hitting the tops of the canyon walls casting an orange glow over the tall trees and shaded valley. On the road ahead of us, more jeeps came into view. We slowed and came to a stop, all eyes darting over the landscape, scanning for tigers. Hearts beating quickly, we quietly searched the wooded hillside until I saw the slight movement and knew I caught sight of a wild tiger!

Rathambhore gave us our first glimpse of a pair of young tigers looking back at us through the thick and shaded forest cover. I was so amazed to see a wild tiger, I could hardly believe what I was seeing (below).

Our driver quietly told us the director of the park was with a BBC photographer doing a story on the disappearance of tigers in a park further north of Ranthambhore - Sariska Tiger Reserve. We only stayed about 20 minutes watching the tigers before we had to exit the park at the required 5:30 p.m.

Reluctant to leave the camoflaged cats, we relished the moment and left with a smile.

Months later, we found out that all the tigers in Sariska Tiger Reserve were killed by poachers.

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On August 12, 2007, National Public Radio aired an interview with tiger expert and conservationist Valmik Thapar. He states, since a recent scientific census of Bengal tigers, that there are far fewer tigers in India than previously believed.

According to Thapar, "I have lived and worked with tigers for thirty-one years and whatever the figures of tigers were, the late 1980's had several thousand tigers and we've lost all of them. I would go as far as to say that if nothing is done in the next three months in terms of emergency measures, India within two years will be left with 300 or 400 tigers on the verge of extinction and they will be enclosed with four walls to keep them alive and the wild tigers of India will no longer exist."

NPR - "...What is threatening the tiger population?"

"I think that two things, one is a huge pressure on the habitat by mining, by land use, by the corporate world and the huge pressure in terms of poachers who have come in and used to their advantage the fact that we have a very low level of governance at the moment and there is a huge demand in China for tiger skin and bones."


Despite the wake up call to India and the conservation community, other reserves continue to loose their tiger populations. With the expanding Chinese economy, demand for tiger parts is on the increase. The future of India's national symbol is on a precarious edge of extinction.

Unless continuing threats to tigers are stopped by poaching prevention, political engagement and consumer awareness, the tiger will not survive.

To help and learn more about what you can do visit the Wildlife Protection Society of India, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Watch the BBC's Nature program "Battle To Save The Tiger" to learn more.



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Early 1900's stereoview photo "Famous "Man-eater" at Calcutta - Devoured 200 Men, Women and Children before Capture - India."


 
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Tigers are a major draw to India, here, a traffic jam is caused after a brief sighting of a pair tigers in Bandhavgarh.


 
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A perfect territory for tigers including the all important water sources with plenty of trees and grass for cover.


 
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From elephant back we watch a tigress in the bamboo forest of Banhavgarh.


 
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Tall grasses are ideal cover for tigers.

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In Kanha National Park, huge gaur roam the grasslands. Sometimes the calves become prey for the tiger.


 
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Langur monkeys can alert other forest species of the presence of a tiger but sometimes become prey themselves.


 
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Chital are a favorite prey of the tiger.


 
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In Kanha National Park, a tigress who recently sat in the mud shows how camouflaged she can be - when she wants to!


 
Save the TIGER!
 
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