Bengal tiger is a subspecies of tiger, which is found in the Bengal region of the Indian subcontinent. Tigers are the largest members of the cat family and are renowned for their power and strength. There were eight tiger subspecies at one time, but three became extinct during the 20th century.
One of the most common tiger subspecies, it is also found in a number of other Asian countries, like Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Tibet, etc. Usually Royal Bengal Tigers of India are reddish-brown to rust-brown in color with black stripes all over.
Bengal tigers live in India and are sometimes called Indian tigers. They are the most common tiger and number about half of all wild tigers. Over many centuries they have become an important part of Indian tradition and lore.
The Bengal tiger populations are sensitive since their reproductive pace is comparatively low. The female Bengal tiger will not reach sexual maturity until she is 3 or 4 years old and the male have to be even older before he can star reproducing, usually 4 or 5. The females only produce offspring every two years after a gestation period of 98 to 110 days. The litter will typically consist of 2 to 4 cubs, and it is not uncommon for several cubs to die at an early age.
Bengal tiger has a coat of reddish-brown to rust-brown color, with black stripes and a white underbelly. The head and body of a male tiger measures 6 to 9 feet in length. Its tail may grow as long as 3 feet. An average Royal Bengal tiger has a weight of somewhere between 400 and 660 pounds (180 and 300 kg), though some tigers have been found to weigh more than 300 kg also. Its shoulder height may measure upto 3 feet (0.97 m). The maximum length of the skull may be around 10 to 15 inches (250 to 380 mm).
A female Bengal tiger may grow to a length of 5 to 6 feet in length (only head and body). Its tail is may be around 2 to 3 feet long. Standing at a shoulder height of around 2.5 feet, female Bengal tigers may weigh around 250 to 450 pounds (110 to 200 kg). Their maximum skull length may be about 8 to 12 inches length. The largest Bengal tiger seen till date weighed close to 390 kg.
Tigers live alone and aggressively scent-mark large territories to keep their rivals away. They are powerful nocturnal hunters that travel many miles to find buffalo, deer, wild pigs, and other large mammals. Tigers use their distinctive coats as camouflage (no two have exactly the same stripes). They lie in wait and creep close enough to attack their victims with a quick spring and a fatal pounce. A hungry tiger can eat as much as 60 pounds (27 kilograms) in one night, though they usually eat less.
Despite their fearsome reputation, most tigers avoid humans; however, a few do become dangerous man-eaters. These animals are often sick and unable to hunt normally, or live in an area where their traditional prey has vanished.
Bengal tigers of India survive on a purely carnivorous diet. Their prey primarily comprises of medium and large-sized animals, like wild boar, deer, gaurs, water buffalo, young Asian Elephants and rhino calves. They may also stalk small animals, namely hares, monkeys, langurs and peacocks. At times, Bengal tigers may hunt other predators like leopards, wolves, jackals, foxes, crocodiles and dholes. They can eat upto about 40 kg (84 lb) of meat at a time and then go without eating for days at a stretch.
Bengal tiger is mainly a solitary creature, which forms alliances only during the mating period. It is a nocturnal creature, which prefers to hunt at night. Bengal tigers are extremely good tree climbers and are also quite apt at swimming. Infact, they swim quite frequently to ambush their prey, which are drinking or swimming or trying to escape.
The major threats to the Bengal tiger comprise of poaching and habitat destruction. They are hunted for their teeth, nails and skin and even killed for their other parts used in East Asian medicines. Urbanization and revenge killing has also contributed to the deteriorating population of the animal.
Today, due to habitat loss caused by deforestation, and hunting by human poachers, the Bengal tiger is considered to be an endangered species. Despite being the most common of all the tiger species, there are thought to be around 2,000 Bengal tigers left in the wild.