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This section reviews and discusses existing literature about the ecology of tigers. The focus on tigers was mainly due to the fact that they have been classified as endangered. The review therefore seeks to develop an understanding of the species in addition to evaluating the efforts made to protect and conserve the species’ natural habitat.
Panthera Tigris commonly known as tiger is the heaviest and largest of all cat species. The brown and polar bears are the only animals feeding on flesh considered to be bigger than tigers. Full grown tigers can weigh up to 700 lb and have a body length of 10 feet. Tigers are known for their distinct and salient feature of reddish fur and black vertical stripes.
The animals are vicious with their stout teeth and long canines. In fact, their canine teeth are said to be the longest among felids. It is very easy to recognize tigers because of their popularity. Among the enigmatic mega faunas of the world, tigers are considered to be the most commonly known.
The underlying reason for this is the fact that tigers have been the center of several traditional myths and folktales in the world. Additionally, the world today also continues to portray them in books and movies, several popular sport teams use the picture of a tiger in their amulets and a number of countries also use the image of a tiger in their national flags and coats of arms.
Tigers can live for long. Their life span in the zoos is relatively similar to the number of years they can live in the wild. The lifespan ranges between 20 and 26 years. Just like lions and other wild cats, tigers have a tendency to be territorial even though it is a social animal. In order to survive in the wild, tigers would mark large adjoining areas of habitat to support their hunting needs.
Because of this tendency and need, the animal has always been in conflict with humans especially in the regions where it is indigenous. Such regions have a dense population of humans making it hard for the animal to have sufficient habitat area for their prey needs.
Distribution and population
During the early years of the 20th century, tigers ranged from turkey all the way to the island of Indonesia and to the sea of Okotsk. However, today the various species of tigers cannot be found within this geographical location.
The population of the animal has drastically dropped over the years and has been marked as one of the animal species nearing extinction. As a result, this has led to concerns of protecting the remaining tigers and conserving their natural habitat.
In the islands of Indonesia and the south western region of Asia, tigers have become almost extinct. The remaining population of tigers is predominantly located in the south eastern region of Asia, particularly in Far East Russia and china. However, they only exist in isolated habitat areas.
Their numbers has greatly been reduced because in the early 20th century, tigers were estimated to be approximately 100000 in number. But today the figures have tremendously dropped to around 4000 individual tigers.
Bengal tigers are located in the region around India and Burma, Siberian tigers are located in the region around China and Russia, Sumatra tigers are located in the region around Sumatra, and south China tigers are locate in the southern part of china.
Tigers are associated with a particular type of habitat. They live in a wide range of habitations. The above mentioned geographical distributions have different habitat features including rocky grounds, savanna, grassland, mangrove, woodland, evergreen forest, and tropical forest. Due to their nature to conceal themselves while preying, tigers prefer habitat areas that have dense cover with ample water.
As earlier mentioned, tigers are ranging animals. They migrate and travel throughout a year within a particular area. Season, sex, availability of prey, and the quality of habitat are among the major factors that determine the size of this ranging area. For instance, in a region where the availability of prey is high, the size of the ranging area will become relatively small. However, when the availability of prey is low, the ranging area becomes large.
India is known to be an area with a high density of prey. As a result, the ranging area for the tiger there is relatively small. It varies between 100 and 1000 square kilometers. However, in Siberia, prey is available but highly dispersed. As a result, ranging area for tigers located in this region is if large. The area can vary between 500 to 5000 square kilometers.
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Sex is another factor that determines the size of tigers’ ranging area. Male tigers have a high propensity to travel or migrate than the female tigers. The male tigers are polygamous in nature, implying that they can mate with more than one female tiger in their life time.
Therefore, the male tigers have a wide ranging areas compared to female tigers. Ecological studies have indicated that a male tiger can have a ranging area that reaches up to around 160 square kilometers while that for female tigers reaches 50 square kilometers.
Studies have also exposed that male tigers accept females within their territories but, no other male is allowed to dwell within the territories.
Basically, their home ranges are considered to be intra-sexual whereby in addition to allowing several females to dwell within their territories, the territorial boundaries of male tigers may overlap with that of other females.
Female tigers do not necessarily have to establish home ranges. But if they do, they consider the density of prey and the quality of the habitat. The area must have a stable population of prey.
Seasons also dictate the size of tigers’ home range. For instance, the size is different during the hot season and the cold weather season. At the same time, the seasons where female tigers are required to care for their young ones, the size of their home range becomes smalls compared to other seasons when they do not have the maternal responsibilities.
In sections where their victims are widely dispersed, the territories may overlap. Tigers living in such areas do not have a tendency to migrate. This forces them to prey even within the territories of other tigers.
Marking of territories and home ranges is done through scent and the sense of sight. They do not produce a special chemical that gives their territories the scent instead, they use urine to mark and produce the scent. The urine is chemically modified to produce a lasting scent.
Tigers would therefore use this fluid to mark their territories by spraying on rocks, bushes, and trees. Another way in which the animals mark their territories is by scrapping the ground with their rear feet. This is usually a visual marker of territorial boundaries. It can be accompanied with urine spray or depositing feces on the scrapped area.
Wild tigers can feed on animals as large as a buffalo and as small as a chital. Its preferred prey can range from large to medium size. Studies have indicated that tigers prefer to feed on animals that weigh at least 90 kilograms. In other instances, tigers can hunt and prey on fellow predators.
They also display opportunistic behaviors whereby they prey on small animals, ground birds, and fish. Large animals such as elephants and rhinos are usually ignored as potential prey because of their size and the difficulty to kill them. For instance, a rhino has a thick skin which the claws and teeth of a tiger can hardly penetrate.
At the same time, rhinos and elephants can attack tigers making it a risky affair for tigers to have interest in them. In India where there too many elephants in the wild, conflict between tigers and elephants is a common phenomenon. The elephants usually take advantage of their size to dominate wherever they go. However, young rhinoceros and elephants can be an easy target for the predator.
Tigers are nocturnal animals meaning that their most preferred hunting time is at night. They can only hunt during the day in areas with no human settlement. They hunt by overwhelming their target using their immense might and body weight. They will do this from any angle until the prey loses balance and falls.
After which, they take hold of the victim’s throat with their canine teeth until it dies. However, their rate of success is usually very low because they get to outsmart only one in every twenty of their potential prey. Nonetheless, tigers have adapted to this phenomenon. They can go without food up to 14 days. But when they get to eat, they can consume up to 35 kilograms of meat.
Tigers can mate anytime. Once a tigress accepts to mate, the process can be very frequent and continue for six days. Tigers have an average gestation period of three months after which the female tiger reproduces a litter of averagely three cubs. Sometimes the number can be as high as six cubs while sometimes it can be only a single cub. The responsibility of rearing cubs is left to females while the males have interest with the cubs. In some cases, male tigers can kill young cubs to coerce a female into mating.
The male definitely knows that the female can easily give birth to another litter within a short period of time. According to studies, the rate of mortality for cubs is usually almost 50 percent. Most cubs fail to live past two years simply because they killed by male tigers with the intention of forcing the mothers into mating. By one and half years, the cubs can be fully independent but still attached to their mother. However, by around 30 months of age, the cubs can begin to separate from their mother to fend for themselves.
Research has shown that tigers in captivity breed well than tigers in the wild. The population of captured tigers in areas such as the North America is increasing and may soon challenge the population of wild tigers. The captive tigers are also known to live slightly longer than the wild ones. Wild tigers are disadvantaged to live long lives because they are often hunted and preyed by human beings.
Effort to protect and conserve the natural habitat of tigers
As mentioned earlier, tigers have been classified to be endangered. Their population has declined greatly over the years and can soon be extinct if the rate of decline continues. India has to almost half of the wild tigers in the world. Conservation efforts in the country have been underway for 40 years now.
Through the tiger project, the country has made significant effort in protecting the remaining tigers. A lot of accomplishments have been achieved over the years. For instance, 25 tiger reserves have been established in the country. The reserves are well monitored to prevent human development and encroachment. In Russia, similar efforts have also been made to protect the few existing Siberian tigers from poachers.
There are strict laws for anti-poaching with heavy penalties imposed on anyone illegally found within the protected zones. International conservation organizations are also partnering with local governmental and non governmental agencies to enhance conservation efforts.
In China, conservation of fauna was not immediately embraced because they viewed the species as natural resources which can be used in any way. This Stance made China to be isolated diplomatically from the rest of world and they had to review their stance in order to emerge from the isolation. In effect, they ratified the Care for the Wild International treaty and began making appropriate effort towards conservation of tigers.