Tigers occupy a variety of habitats, from dense mangrove forests in the Indo-Gangetic delta to the Siberian taiga. In India, the royal Bengal tiger is found from Uttarakhand in the north of India to Kerala in the south, and from Rajasthan in the west to Arunachal Pradesh in the east. There are an estimated 2,900-odd tigers in India.
A tiger (Panthera tigris) needs a relatively large territory and a steady supply of prey to thrive. “The average minimum territory size for a female tiger is around 15-20 sq. km, though some studies have suggested it could be closer to 10 sq. km in some places,” says Mayukh Chatterjee, who works with the Wildlife Trust of India. “Male territories can go up to 100 sq. km or more.”
Despite the successes of conservation efforts like Project Tiger, India’s tigers face the problem of a steadily shrinking habitat. With large swathes of India’s forests violated to extract minerals and fuel, the wilderness that remains is fragmented and the populations of many species have become isolated. This is especially problematic for tigers as territory defines their ability to mate and reproduce. Male and female tigers mark their territory and defend their turf in different ways.
The territorial nature of tigers also shapes conservation measures, and good conservation considers both science and culture. “Today we are talking about translocating tigers from one place to another to maintain genetic diversity, or to mitigate conflicts between tigers and people, spending crores of rupees, instead of taking a much simpler path that will ensure long-lasting impact, such as protecting corridors, along with local people on the ground,” says Chatterjee. “Scores of research projects suggest that building the capacity of local communities, and working with them jointly to protect wildlife habitats is a more sustainable option.”