The Tribune - Spectrum

, June 16, 2002

On the trail of the tiger
Padam Ahlawat

The Tiger in India. A Natural History.
by J.C. Daniel. Natraj Publishers, Dehra Dun. Pages 300

The Tiger in India. A Natural History."THE tiger will never become extinct, as it does well in captivity, but in the wild it is most likely to survive in the Sunderbans, where the habitat favours the tiger." So writes the author of this book. But, it is the fear of extinction that has goaded the authorities to set up wild life sanctuaries. Wild animals are best when seen in their wild habitat and not in captivity.

The author is an old shikari who hunted down man-eaters. This book is about the tiger, its size, behaviour, habits and habitat. The tiger is an Asian animal and its remains have been found even in Siberia. It now survives in Mongolia, Manchuria and Korea. To the south, it is found in Afghanistan and even in Sumatra and Java. But it is in India that it is found in the largest numbers and as such has been identified with India.

The tiger is still widely distributed but three of the species, the Bali tiger, the Javan tiger and the Caspian tiger, have become extinct. In India, the tiger has disappeared from Punjab, Haryana, J&K, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Mumbai.


E.A. Smythies recorded that between 1929 and 1938, 1074 tigers were shot in reserved forests of the United Provinces. The Central Provinces accounted for 143 tigers shot during 1929-30 and 118 shot in 1930-31. These figures indicate that the population of tigers was largest in United Provinces and Central Provinces. Mysore recorded 54 tigers being shot in 1937-38, while 51 were shot in Bengal. Most of the tigers shot were male (70%), indicating the population of males was higher than the females.

The colour of tiger in Rajasthan is a light red ochre, but the rare white tiger has been found in Rewa, while black tigers are found in the North-East. The tiger has a keen sense of sight and hearing but a poor sense of smell. In one instance, there was no more than five or six feet separating the shikari and the tiger, and though the shikari could smell the tiger strongly, the tiger was doubtful and kept taking deep breaths to make out what it was. However, this is not to say that they have no sense of smell. The tiger loves to swim but it rarely climbs a tree. It kills its prey by bringing them down and then seizing the animal by the throat. Large prey are usually brought down by hamstringing and once down seizing its throat.

It is the female that approaches the male during the mating period. In a day, the averge mating is 22 times. The gestation period is 103 days, but the pregnancy occures in 22 cases out of 48 matings.

Though the tiger is an intelligent animal, it resorts to attacking porcupines as it relishes its meat. In most cases, it receives the quills which form into festering sores and ulcers, often becoming the reason for it turning into a maneater.

"Wild dogs make formidable foes, but it is doubtful whether a large pack will attack a tiger. It has been recorded however, that disputes over kills do occur." Two instances of wild dogs attacking tigers are recorded. In one, the tiger was mauled by the dogs, while in the second story, related by Connel, 22 dogs attacked a tiger over a kill. The ferocious dogs cared not for death, even after 12 of them lay dead and some were badly injured. They killed and ate the tiger. The author comments ‘A good story but probably only a story’. Wild dogs can take on a leopard but dare not take on a tiger or a lion.

Tigers have been known to have killed bears but it is rare. Corbett wrote of one instance when a tiger and a bear collided into each other and then ran of into different directions. The tiger is the only animal that can frighten the elephant and the elephant shys away from a tiger’s charge. Tigers have been known to have killed elephants.

Maneaters are uncommon in South India, and in this century, except for occasional lapses, tigers have rarely preyed on man. Man- eating tigers are common in the Sunderbans and the Kumaon. Why that has been so has not been satisfactorily explained. The most common cause of an animal becoming a man- eater is injury from gun shots or porcupine or accident, which prevents an animal from killing its ordinary prey.

Tiger hunting as a sport dates back to the Mughals when it was a sport for kings. It became a popular sport during the British rule.

E.P. Gee estimates the population of elephants in India to be 7000, while there are 4000 tigers and 6000 leopards. He estimates that the population of tiger and leopards over 10 times 50 years ago. Today, there are 27 isolated tiger reserves but they are beset with problem of poaching and the author considers the survival of tiger in the wild to be bleak. With no census having being done, the data is only a premise. But some tigers are better than none at all.