Of all the cat species the Bengal tiger is the largest and arguably the most impressive. Sadly it is also one of the most threatened.
There are thought to be as few as 3,200 tigers left in the wild. Numbers have fallen by about 95% over the past 100 years and three subspecies – the Bali, Caspian and Javan tiger – are already extinct. The Bengal tiger is the most numerous subspecies but the population is only 2,500 individuals – and declining. Living mainly in India but also in Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, the Bengal tiger is officially classified as ‘endangered’.
The biggest single threat to the survival of the species is poaching. Tigers are illegally killed for their skins and body parts, which are used in traditional Asian medicines. Growing prosperity in Asian economies has led to an increasing demand for tiger-based medicines. The second major challenge is habitat loss. Deforestation, agriculture and rapid infrastructure development is forcing tigers into small, scattered islands of remaining habitat.
To witness the Bengal tiger in its natural habitat is one of the great wildlife experiences. They are elusive and sometimes hard to track, but with patience and expert help from wildlife guides you are likely to be rewarded with sightings. Tiger safaris tend to focus on India’s three greatest game parks – Ranthambore, Bandhavgarh and Kanha – where tiger populations are strongest and sightings most common.
Tiger safaris play a key role in supporting the tiger’s fight for survival, providing crucial funding to India’s national parks and their conservation projects. Many operators, including Explore, also support TOFT – Tour Operators for Tigers – a travel industry body which ensures best practice during tiger tracking safaris and provides funding for conservation projects.