- Greatest Cat
The oldest remains of a tiger-like cat have been found in China and Java. This species lived about 2 million years ago. It was smaller than a present tiger. Also, earliest fossils of true tigers are known from Java, and are between 1.6 and 1.8 million years old.
The tiger is the largest of cat species, reaching a total body length up to 3.3 meters and weighs up to 300 kg. It is the third largest land carnivore (behind polar bear and brown bear). Its canines are the longest among living cats.
There were eight subspecies of tiger, three of which, are extinct. The living subspecies are -Bengal tiger, Siberian tiger, Indochinese tiger, Sumatran tiger and South China tiger. Bali, Caspian and Javan tigers are now extinct.
- Life in a Forest
The Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) lives in parts of India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar. Tiger is very adaptable animal, with few requisites for survival -- good forest, moderate cover, water and adequate prey. Tiger is shy and solitary, features tailored to suit its surroundings and hunting methods.
Tigers live solitary lives with well defined territories for both – male and female. A tigress may have a territory of about 20-25 sq km in areas with a good prey base. The territory of a male is much larger, extending over an area of 70–100 km2. A male tiger’s territory has within it territories of few females.
- Smart Predator
The tiger is the top predator of the area. It is endowed with enormous strength, furtiveness and fleetness, allowing it to bring down prey animal, even much heavier than itself.
Generally, tiger search for prey instead of lying in wait for them. Once a prey is found, it attempts to come as close to it as possible without being noticed by the prey. It keeps its body close to the ground and fixes its eyes on the prey. It carefully positions itself, crouching for the final assault. Raising and lowering its head several times, it assesses the distance and anticipates the prey’s movements. Once the target is stationary and within reach, the tiger raises its body slowly and launches itself at top speed towards the animal and brings it down.
The reserve is home to a variety of herbivores, which form important prey base for tigers and other predators. Here tiger hunts, largest Indian deer – the Sambar, biggest antelope of Asia – the Nilgai and the prettiest Indian deer – the Chital. Other herbivores of the reserve, which are also in food-intake of tigers, are black buck, Chinkara, chowsinga, langur, rhesus macaque, bonet macaque etc.
In NSTR sambar lives in the dense slopes and hilly terrain with good plant diversity. Chital prefer flat, slightly undulating deciduous forests with proximity to water and riverine tracts with thick cover. Nilgai inhabits comparatively open grasslands and hilly terrain.
- How Tiger Finds A Mate?
Tigers become sexually mature at the age of about 3 years. However, they cannot breed straightaway. For this, they have to establish their own territories. After doing so, females generally breed at 3 years of age and a male at around 5 years of age.
A female in heat converse to males by scent-marking on tree trunks, bushes etc on forest roads and trails. She also becomes more vocal during this period.
About three and half months after successful mating, female chooses a safe and secluded spot in the forest to give birth to around 2-4 cubs, generally in a den. The cubs are born blind. Their eyes open after 12-14 days following birth. During first two months, cubs are rarely left unattended except for brief periods when the mother goes out for hunting.
- Nurturing the Young
Generally at 3 to 3.5 months of age, cubs are weaned. Now they will live exclusively on meat, necessitating the mother to hunt more frequently. Tiger cubs grow fast, and their demand for food continuously increases. They face number of dangers during early months. When alone, they are at great risk from predators like wild dogs, leopards and hyenas.
Until the age of about 2 years, cubs need the help of their mother for survival. She protects them, hunts for them and imparts to them survival techniques. Tigress even risks her own life to save her cubs from any threat.\
Though, role of a father is also of big importance because his presence in the area ensures well-being of the cubs.
- Growing Up
A mother tigress’s primary concern is to teach her young ones where to find prey, how to hunt, how to defend themselves and other necessary survival techniques. Watching their mother on hunt and during play, cubs pick up many vital survival skills like stalking, pouncing, ambushing and climbing.
Every cub has to leave the mother to start its independent life and, especially in case of male cubs, to prevent in-breeding. The separation takes place when the cubs are about two to two and half years old. All cubs will live and hunt together at least for some weeks after leaving their mother.
For some time after separation, the mother intermittently visits her cubs to know their whereabouts. If found hungry, she will even, hunt for them.
- Independent Lives
After leaving their mother, sub-adult tigers start moving as transients through the jungle, entering into the second most dangerous phase of their lives. Young females relatively have an easier time after dispersal. They are able to stay loosely connected with the mother. They generally settle nearby, and may even annex a part of their mother's range.
An adult resident male will not tolerate other young-adult male tigers even if he is their father. This forces them to wander far off and live a nomadic life till they establish their own territories which, generally, happens when they are 4.5 to 5 years old. This is nature’s mechanism of distribution of fresh genes to far-off areas through the dispersing young males.