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Tiger: The magnificent animal

Tigers are the most magnificent of all the cats. It is one of the five 'big cats'. A large male tiger averages about 9 feet (3mt.) in length (from head to the end of the tail).The average height is about 3 feet (1mt.) at the shoulder and it can weighs up to 250kgs.(500-550 lb) A female tiger is slightly smaller, being about a foot shorter and about 25 to 30 kgs. less in weight.

The coloring of the tiger's coat ranges from fawn to red, and is overlaid with blackish-brown transverse stripes, providing excellent camouflage in forest regions. Till only about a century back, the tiger was widespread and was found from Turkey to China, but now it faces the danger of extension. It is now found in some parts of India, south-west Asia, Iran, Manchuria, Sumatra, Bali and Java.

The total number of tigers living in the wild in these areas is now believed to be much less than 5000.The second part of the eighteenth till the end of the twentieth century witnessed the ever increasing decline of the tiger population. First by the wealthy hunters, who ruthlessly hunted down the tigers for sport and by the natives, out of fear.

Later as civilization spread vast areas of forests were cleared to make place for humans and robbing the tigers of their natural habitat, resulting in great decline of the tiger population. As a result of the steady decline of the tiger count, in 1972, the World Wildlife Fund launched a campaign to protect the tiger. Soon countries like India and the Soviet Union banned the hunting and killing of tigers.

Even the export of tiger skin and tiger bones and other ports of the tiger were banned. In the west, countries like the United States of America and the United Kingdom among others put an embargo on the import of the tiger skin.

The Tiger is a solitary animal. Each tiger has its own territory which the tiger defends very furiously. The tiger marks its territory by spraying their own urine, also claw marks on trees and buses announces the intruders of the tigers territory. The territory is open only at the time of mating and that to for its partner. The urine of the female tiger has a peculiar smell during oestrus, which she sprays on trees and bushes to attract neighboring male tigers.

The actual act of coupling generally lasts for 15-30 seconds only, but is repeated several times in a day during oestrus. The gestation time is 105 days and normally about three to four cubs are born in each litter.

The infant mortality is very high, only about two on an average survive to adulthood. Generally the tiger leaves soon after the courtship, but many stay back until the birth. The cubs are born blind and weigh about 1.5 kgs. at birth. They have their distinct tiger stripes right from the time of birth. The eyes of the cubs open by the end of the second week and they are weaned at the sixth week.

The cub usually stays with their mothers till they are two years old, during this time it learns most of arts of survival. They can however kill for themselves as early as when they are 6-7 months old. A tiger attains full maturity by the time they are three years old. The Tiger usually hunts at night, like most of the cats. Their coat being a superb camouflage makes the tiger stalk their prey from within yards and then make a surprise attack.

The tiger, being strong usually fell their prey with one big leap and bite its preys throat or neck. They than drag their kill to a quit and cool place to enjoy the meal. It than hides its kill in a safe place only to return when hungry again. The deer, antelope, rabbits, porcupines, buffalo and monkey are the most common animals a tiger feeds on.

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