Bengal Tiger (bagh) one of the largest living cats on earth, belongs to family Felidae, order Carnivora. The Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) is recognised as the national animal of bangladesh and is renowned as the Royal Bengal Tiger. Its body is rich yellow to reddish ochre in colour with vertically arranged black stripes, more pronounced towards the rump and thighs; its underparts are whitish. Its cubs are born with stripes. The yellow tail has a series of black rings and ends up with a black tip. The backside of the ears is black and has a clearly visible white spot. The animal has round pupils, retractile claws, head-body length 140-280 cm, and a tail measuring 60-110 cm. Its height at its shoulder is 95-110 cm; males weigh 180-280 kg and females 115-185 kg; the female is smaller.
The heaviest tiger that has been recorded in the Guinness Book of Records at 465 kg is the Amur (Siberian) Tiger (Panthera tigris attaica). Siberian tigers are also generally the heaviest, with adult males often weighing over 272 kg and male Sumatran tigers (P. t. sumatrae) weigh only about 113 kg.
Tigers are mainly nocturnal, and normally solitary except when breeding. They prey on medium to large mammals such as deer, wild pigs and porcupines. They can bring down animals twice their size. Prey species determine how many tigers can survive in a given area. An agile animal, it swims well, and patrols its territory by marking it with droppings and other signs. Tigers are monogamous and usually give birth to 2-5 cubs after a gestation period of about 14-15 weeks; the majority of the cubs are born between February and May and nursed by their mothers for 5-6 months. The young cubs stay with their mother for a year or more. A female becomes sexually mature in 3 years and a male in 4 years.
An extremely adaptable animal, P. tigris lives in a variety of habitats, from tropical forests to mangrove swamps to deciduous woodlands. Tigers can also be found in a wide range of climates and range from the jungles of the subcontinent to the snows of the Russian Far East. In Bangladesh tigers were once found in every forest, but are now confined to the mangrove forests of the sundarbans, and are treated as a critically endangered species.
Of the eight subspecies of tigers five still survive: the Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) lives in Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Western Myanmar and Nepal; the Amur (Siberian) Tiger (P. t. attaica) in Siberia, Manchuria and Northeast China; the south China (Amoy) Tiger (P. t. ameyensis) in China; the Sumatran Tiger (P. t. sumatrae) in Sumatra; and the Indo-Chinese Tiger (P. t. corbetti) in Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Eastern Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. Three subspecies of tigers the Javan Tiger (P. t. sondaica), the Bali Tiger (P. t. balica), and the Caspian (Turan/Hyrcanian) Tiger (P. t. virgata) have become extinct in the last 50 years. Today it is estimated that fewer than 7,000 tigers survive in the wild in the following countries: Bangladesh (300-362), Bhutan (67-81), China (110-140), India (2,500-3,750), Myanmar (230-465), Nepal (93-97), Russia (330-337), Vietnam (200), Cambodia (150-300), Laos (?), North Korea (c 10), Thailand (250-501), Malaysia (491-510), and Indonesia (400-500).
In Bangladesh habitat loss, loss of prey, poaching for skin and other body parts, and killing by man are the major threats to tigers. The Royal Bengal Tiger has been included in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix 1, and in the 3rd Schedule of the Bangladesh (Wildlife) (Preservation) (Amendment) Act, 1974. [Md Anwarul Islam]