Bengal tigers -- Panthera tigris tigris, or Panthera tigris bengalensis

Bengal - Page 1&2: In The Wild | 3: In Captivity | 4: Subspecies Description | 5: Weight & Length Figures |
6: Conservation

Distribution and numbers for the Bengal tiger:

The Bengal (Panthera tigris tigris) is India's national emblem and was declared so prior to 2500 B.C. This page displays the official seal of the Indus Valley Civilisation, which dates back to that time.

This subspecies is primarily found in India, though minimal numbers also occur throughout areas like Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and China.

Also known as the Indian tiger, this is the most numerous subspecies, though 'numerous' equals only 3,000 -- 5,000 animals, of which approximately 34% are within the boundaries of animal reserves.



2,500 to 3,750


300 to 460


150 to 250


50 to 240


30 to 35

The above figures have often been challenged. A more recent census put total numbers at between 2,500 and 3,750, however allegations were made that the census was unscientific and carried out by untrained personnel. Given this, tiger figures could be higher -- or worse, they may be less. The most sobering thought is that there are more Bengal tigers remaining in the wild than all other subspecies combined.

The frequency of census monitoring differs according to area. In Orissa these are carried out every four years, during peak summer periods when most water holes dry up. Since the tigers tend to be in the locality of water (along with their prey), this makes counting and tracing pug marks (paw prints) easier.

On the other hand, Similipal Tiger Reserve carries out a census every two years and this is done in winter.

The 1970s marked an all-time low for the Bengal tiger when numbers slumped to approximately 1,800. Since this time intensive work on the part of various groups and the Indian Government has seen a rise in population numbers.

Genetic pollution in wild Bengal tigers:

In November 1998, Silver Jubilee year of Project Tiger, it was discovered that the Indian Bengal tiger had been polluted with genes unique to the Amur (Siberian) subspecies.

India spends about US$75 million a year to provide protection for its tigers; included in this is the aim of ensuring genetic purity. Using DNA fingerprinting, two wild tigers from the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve in northern India were given hair sample tests; both cats showed Amur genes.

The question of how the hybridisation may have begun is an interesting one. In the late 1970s, Billy Arjan Singh, a conservationist living beside Dudhwa Tiger Reserve took ownership of a captive-bred tiger called Tara. Of Amur parentage, Tara was raised in the local area and then successfully released, amongst much controversy. A tigress which had turned man-eater was later shot and it is thought this was probably Tara.

The most likely source of the Amur genes is this one female, though it is conceivable that some Amur tigers escaped from zoos or circuses.

It is unknown as to whether or not the hybrids will be able to breed, since hybridisation often has the side effect of making an animal sterile. Tara was later shot after claims she had turned man-eater.

(Continued Page 2)

Bengal - Page 1&2: In The Wild | 3: In Captivity | 4: Subspecies Description | 5: Weight & Length Figures |
6: Conservation

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Photography With Thanks To Aditya Singh (Photo 1)
Miguel Mealha (Photo 2)
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