Cat Family - Tiger
‘The more we read about him, the more he comes in our dreams;
— Jim Corbett on the Tiger
No other line could describe better the heady mix of emotions that captivates the human mind at the very mention of this charismatic creature of the wild. Epitome of grace, beauty and might, this Apex predator evokes awe, terror and respect since times immemorial. This one from cat family is worshiped since ages as a god-fearing he seems to have been bestowed the status of Animal-God – the all-encompassing, all-powerful predator of the night. And yet this beauty has been at the receiving end of human greed and development. As recently as 100 years ago, there were as many as 100,000 wild tigers living in Asia. As per the latest census, today about 3226 remain in the wild. It is saddening to know that we have lost almost 97 % of all our tigers in the wild over the past century.
The tiger is the biggest in the cat family, belonging to eight (8) different sub species depending on origin and features. All dwell as solitary predators their striped tawny coat serving as excellent camouflage in grassy and forest habitats.
About the Species
The following are the species of tigers found in the wild. Unlike popular belief the “white tiger” is not a separate species, but a recessive mutant of these species due to the absence of pigmentation.
|Sub Species||Scientific Name||Range||Status|
|Royal Bengal||Panthera tigris tigris||India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan, Nepal||Endangered|
|Caspian||Panthera tigris virgate||Afghanistan, Iran, Chinese and Russian Turkistan, Turkey||Near Threatened|
|Siberian||Panthera tigris altaica||China, North Korea, Russia||Endangered|
|Javan||Panthera tigris sondaica||Java||Extinct in 1980s|
|Chinese||Panthera tigris amoyensis||South China (Amoy)||Endangered|
|Balinese||Panthera tigris balica||Bali||Extinct in 1940s|
|Sumatran||Panthera tigris sumatrae||Sumatra||Critically Endangered|
|Indo-Chinese||Panthera tigris corbetti||Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam||Critically Endangered|
Origins and habitat
The tiger is believed to have originated in the cold lands of Siberia and migrated gradually due to various factors such as habitat changes, predator base etc. The exact reason for this migration from a niche region to almost the whole of Asia is still not known. Basically an inhabitant of the tundra, the cat has adapted well to the warmer climes of Southern Asia including India, which currently is h-ome to more than 65% of the world’s remaining tigers in the wild. Remarking adaptability has led the cat to spread across climes- from Terai regions of North to tropical dry and moist deciduous forests of the West-North, from evergreen forests of the South to the riverine marshes of the East.
Tigers are the ultimate stealth experts, they hunt individually by stalking their prey through grass cover and foliage and striking at close range. The kill is made by the ‘death bite’- a swipe at the neck followed by a swift bite to the jugular, leading the prey to a sure and swift death. And yet this magnificent predator has its misses. Research indicates that a tiger hunt results in a ‘miss’ 50% of the times. Tigers prefer hunting nocturnally, though in recent times due to becoming accustomed to wildlife tourist vehicles, they have developed diurnal hunting habits. Typical food of the tiger is large seer such as the sambar. They are single-handedly capable of bringing down wild gaur, rhinos and elephant calves as well, if the opportunity presents itself. This speaks volumes of the might and strength of this graceful beast. A tiger kill can be identified easily in the manner in which it feeds; they generally eat the prey from the backside up as opposed to leopard, which eat belly up. Tigers are immaculately clean hunters and feeders, separating the stomach and intestine from the mass before beginning a meal.
Highly territorial in nature, the kingdom of a male tiger may range in size up to 50 square kilometres. Females generally have a smaller territory and one male may share a territory with 2-3 females at a time. Territorial markings and communication is done through spray markings of urine, claw markings on trees and scat marks on roadsides. Mating in tigers occurs over a period of 3-5 days after which the couple separates ways and the female gives birth to and rears the offspring. Generally a litter comprises two to six cubs, with a gestation period of 15-16 weeks. The cubs remain with the mother for two to two and half years, picking up core skills to survive in the wild. After this period, they go their own ways, in search of their own territories. Separation is an intense period which ensues many tiger battles, be it with siblings or mother or with other territorial males. This natural separation is the way of nature ensues natural selection, ensuring propagation of the strongest gene. A Way of the Wild that even this strongest beast adheres to.
- A Bengal tiger can eat 21kg of meat in a night and can kill the equivalent of 30 buffaloes a year.
- Each tiger has a different coat, a tiger can be uniquely identified by the pattern of its stripes.
- The roar of a Bengal tiger can carry for over 2km at night.
- Although tigers are powerful and fast over short distances, the Bengal tiger cannot outrun fleet footed prey such as deer. Instead it uses stealth to catch its victims; attacking from the side or the rear
- It is probably the only cat that loves the water, is an excellent swimmer and can be seen cooling off in lakes and streams during the heat of the day
Cat Family - Leopard
Master of stealth, seeker of opportunity!
What better way to describe this spotted elusive kind, regarded by many as one of the most successful species of cat family owing to its superb adaptation skills and ability to co-exist with urban development. Clever, opportunistic, secretive and highly agile- these are the skills that any human being can pick up from this wild cat.
Though small in size, their success of survival lies in an almost perfect camouflage and habit of pulling their kills up trees, a major feat of strength! Their secretive nature makes it very difficult to spot a leopard in the wild, they typically dwell as nocturnal predators, shying away from human presence unlike the mighty tiger. For this is a master of ‘strike by stealth”, an innate habit to outlive the Apex predator.
About the Species
Since Carl Linnaeus published his description of a leopard in the Systema Naturae in 1758, as many as 27 leopard subspecies were subsequently described by naturalists from 1794 to 1956. After further analysis of DNA post 1996 only nine subspecies are considered valid.
|Sub Species||Scientific Name||Range||Status|
|African leopard||P. p. pardus||Sub-saharan Africa||Endangered|
|Indian Leopard||P. p. fusca||Native to the Indian Subcontinent – India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan||Near Threatened|
|Arabian leopard /Erythrean leopard||P. p. nimr||Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, UAE.||Smallest leopard species|
|Persian/Caucasian leopard||P. p. saxicolor||Caucasus, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and northern Iran||Largest leopard species|
|North Chinese / Chinese leopard||P. p. japonensis||Central to North China|
|Amur or Siberian leopard||P. p. orientalis||Only in the cold regions of Russian Far East and Northeast China||most Critically Endangered leopard subspecies, and one of the most endangered animals in the world|
|Indo-Chinese or South Chinese leopard||P. p. delacouri||Mainland Southeast Asia and South China|
|Javan leopard||P. p. melas||Java||among the most Critically Endangered leopard subspecies|
|Sri Lankan leopard||P. p. kotiya||Sri Lanka|
The leopard’s coat is recognized by its clear yellow coat dotted with rosettes and a long tail that acts as the balancer during arboreal inhabitation. Like the stripes of the tiger, the leopard’s rosettes are unique. Longer hind-limbs combined with more powerful forelimbs make them excellent hunters.
The melanistic leopard, commonly called the black panther, has dark rosettes against a dark or black background. Various versions of this are seen with some being darker than the others, but even in the completely black ones, a background pattern of rosettes can still be viewed from a close distance.
Unlike the tiger, a white form of the leopard has not been reported. While many may confuse the snow leopard to be so, the snow leopard is an entirely separate species.
A rare “strawberry” leopard was once photographed in South Africa’s Madikwe Game Reserve, a condition believed to be caused by rare genetic condition causing an overproduction of red pigments (Erythrean leopard).
Origins and habitat
Leopards have the largest distribution of any wild cat, occurring throughout Africa and Asia. Though exact origins are debatable, they have been found to thrive in grasslands, woodlands, riverine forests as well as co-exist with humans along the fringes of human settlements. Due to the leopard’s superlative stealth, people often remain unaware that big cats live in nearby areas. In fact studies have revealed that leopards may colonize erstwhile human habitats such as sugarcane fields and use them as habitat to breed and feed. So much so for adjusting to any situation!
Leopards are known for their ability in climbing, and have been observed resting on tree branches during the day, dragging their kills up trees and hanging them there, and descending from trees headfirst. They manage to co-exist with tigers by hunting smaller prey (between 10-50 kg), hunting langurs in trees and ambushing rodents, hares, peafowl and junglefowl; prey that a tiger usually never hunts.
The leopard communicates through a characteristic ‘rasping’ or ‘sawing’ sound, named so since it resembles the sound of wood being sawed. Other vocalizations include grunts, growls, meows and purrs. Predominantly nocturnal hunters, they are gifted with superb vision and hearing; this may be an adaptation to enable the species to co-exist with the tiger. In the absence of prey, they make kill cattle and even humans, thus gaining a notorious reputation as a man-eater. The kill mechanism of a leopard is a stalking prey in ambush followed by a sudden and swift bite to the neck, blocking the windpipe and choking the victim to death. A highly agile cat, a leopard can leap over 6 metres horizontally and jump up to 3 metres vertically.
Territoriality defines their behaviour, with males typically having larger home ranges. While the home ranges of males have none of little overlap, the territories of females and males may overlap significantly. This behaviour is similar to tigers.
- The population of leopard and tigers ( for co-existing territories) is generally inversely proportional; an increase in the tiger population resulted in a sharp decrease in the leopard population and a shift in the leopard diet to small prey
- Each leopard has a different coat, a leopard can be uniquely identified by the pattern of its rosettes.
- In the history of leopards, 2 extreme cases of man-eaters have been observed – the ‘Man-eater of Rudraprayag’ who killed 125+ people and the ‘Panar’ leopard (who killed 400+ people). Both these leopards were killed by Jim Corbett in his earlier hunting days.
- Leopards love spending time in trees. Watch out for the horizontal branches, you may spot a spotted one spending his afternoon siesta in the cool greens!
Cat Family - Jungle Cat
A relative of the common cat, yet not so your domestic friend!
In cat family, jungle cat is a close relative of the domestic cat and is the largest of the extant Felis species. With its long legs and comparatively short tail and distinct spinal crest, the Jungle Cat has a very distinctive appearance
About the Species
Thomas Hardwicke’s collection of illustrations of Indian wildlife comprises the first drawing of an Indian jungle cat named the “Allied cat” Felis affinis by Gray in 1830. Today, the following nine sub-species are recognized depending on geography-specific characteristics.
Origins and habitat
The jungle cat has a broad but patchy distribution. Categorized by IUCN as “Least Concern”, it commonly inhabits the Indian Subcontinent, though it is rarely spotted due to its highly nocturnal nature. However, population declines and range contraction are of concern elsewhere, particularly Egypt, southwest Asia, the Caucasus, central Asia and Southeast Asia.
They are best suited to habitats with scattered surface water and dense vegetative cover, hence occupies a wide home turf ranging from grassland, shrubby woodland and dry deciduous forest. Although they are adaptable animals, being found even in dry steppe, they prefer wetland environments with tall grasses or reeds in which to hide.Jungle cats have adapted well to irrigated cultivation, having been observed in many different types of agricultural and forest plantations throughout their range, such as sugar cane plantations in India.
Solitary in nature, Jungle cats feed mainly on prey that weighs less than one kilogram. Small mammals, principally rodents, are the prey most frequently found in feces and stomach contents.Like most cats, they use not only sight and hearing while hunting, but also their sense of smell. Their differentiator and mode of hunting is stealth and surprise attack; they are adept at leaping, and sometimes attempt to catch birds in flight.
On perceiving threat, the jungle cat generally vocalizes before engaging in attack, producing small roar-like sounds, this is a behaviourcharacteristic to the jungle cat and uncommon for other members of genus Felis. Though excellent swimmers, they are not water-lovers unlike tigers and resort to swimming only as a last means to escape threats.
- Jungle cats are capable of being domesticated under certain conditions. Cat breeders have been able to hybridize jungle cats with certain domestic cats, producing such breeds as the “Chausie” (jungle cat × domestic cat) and the “Jungle Bob” (jungle cat × Pixie–bob).