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The Tiger, Panthera tigris, is the epitome of the term “Charismatic Megafauna”. For as long as we can remember, the tiger has been at the heart of legends, myths, conflict and controversy. Whether you like it or despise it, there is no denying that its feline grace and noble bearing would leave everyone, even those with little fondness or time for nature, captivated. Its solicitous nature towards its young opens a window to a softer side of tigers that is seldom seen, or at the very least, seldom thought of. It is little wonder why many are keen to eradicate it from its natural habitat and an equal amount are adamant in ensuring the tiger has a place on Earth. The tiger symbolizes many traits that men strive for; raw power, eloquence, beauty and most importantly, freedom. Free in the sense that if left to their own devices, tigers are rightfully, “Kings of the Jungle.” Asiatic elephants have been known to be tackled by these cats and they are as big as prey can get in the Indian jungles. Contrary to popular belief, tigers are not found on the plains of Africa. There are 9 recognized subspecies of the tiger; 6 extant and 3 extinct. The latter includes the Bali, Caspian and Javanese tiger. The former includes the Amur, Bengal, Sumatran, Indochinese, Malayan and South China tiger. The last subspecies is probably the most critically endangered subspecies, consisting of 10 remaining individuals in the wild. Sadly, its future is not promising.

Tigers belong to the genus Panthera, which also includes the Lion [P.leo], Leopard [P.pardus] and Jaguar [P.onca]. These felines are the only ones that can roar and the tiger is the largest of them all. Due to its beautiful pelt and supposedly medicinally-effective body parts, the tiger has been hunted extensively in its previous range. Also believed to be a predator of both livestock and men, they have been ruthlessly persecuted. As such, it is no surprise that the numbers are small. However, there is an increasing amount of attention given towards its plight and numerous initiatives are being undertaken to safeguard both its survival and its habitat.

There is always a certain amount of darkness surrounding the tiger whenever it is mentioned. However, it has been brought to light that these ferocious beasts are capable of softer habits such as the notion of a family. It has always been thought that among cats, the lion is the only species that forms a social group, known as a pride. Nevertheless, the tiger has managed to break this record as there have been numerous sightings in India, under Project Tiger, which shows that the tiger may occasionally play a father figure. An example of a standout observation; a tiger was seen bringing up 2 cubs, after the tigress was killed. It came to the defense of the cubs when a foreign tigress came upon the scene. Of course, such occurrences do not mean that all tigers form family groups. The main point here is that whenever we begin to think that we understand how things work, Mother Nature could always throw a twist. There is always the risk that we could begin to anthropomorphize in order to feel some kind of connection to wildlife. We can, however, always turn this into an opportunity to lend a hand in helping these cats. The fact that there is still so much we do not know about these animals should be enough for us to take a step back and think.

For me personally, it is a very humbling thought that in the midst of all the problems we face at home, at work or within ourselves, there is always something bigger out there. The survival of a species will not be guaranteed overnight. It is continuous work to constantly ensure that measures taken to protect them are enforced and sustainable. For the tiger, it is of utmost importance to be aware that consumption of its body parts does not make one a man! Wearing a coat made of an animal’s pelt isn’t fashionable!

Before I end this piece, some food for thought; true, by saving an animal’s life, we will not change the world. But, by saving that animal’s life, its world would have changed forever.

JV