India is home to 70% of the world’s tigers. Thanks to Project Tiger, started under the administration of Prime Minister Indira Gandi, there are 49 tiger reserves in India. In 2005, there were 1,380 tigers in India, by 2014 the population grew to 2,225.
Project Tiger is administered by the National Tiger Conservation Authority to protect Bengal tigers for their historic, scientific and education uses and for the appreciation of millions of Indian citizens and foreign visitors who come to the preserves every year.
Depending upon the region and location, viewing options for the public are provided but are limited in number compared to the 49 preserves. Allowing public access often causes safety and logistical issues so it is only a handful of parks that have carved out land for this purpose and put the resources into creating facilities that are suitable for public access.
People love to see the Big Cats and those on display are magnificent. One park offers a 2 miles walking path through the tiger sanctuary providing up close views of the tigers and their daily lives. Wide paths with fenced siding providing the protection and the visibility visitors desire.
Feeding time is often the most interesting as big cat handlers bring out thousands of pounds of meat to feed these majestic wild animals, many of whom consume up to 50 pounds of meat per day. One facility offers a feeding area where visitors can stand on a bench and with a handler’s feeding stick, pick up a piece of meat and put it through an area of the fence. One big cat is walked through the opposite side of the fence and the visitors places the feeding stick through the open area and the tiger grabs the meat.
It is a bit scary but fully safe and a once in a lifetime experience. And of course, a photo-op is provided as well as video. The cat feeds while standing on it’s hind legs so some of the cats reach 8 or 10 feet in height. Which is why you need to stand on the bench to participate.
I’m not sure if it’s more interesting for the feeder or those watching as the person feeding the cat is busy watching to make sure the piece of meat make it through the open area and that the tiger grabs it.
Everyone else is in awe that a huge Bengal cat is coming over to within 6 feet of your group and then leaps up quickly once it sees the meat providing a little gasp for everyone. You can see the strength of these animals as they pounce with such control onto the fence and you can watch all the muscles in their body reach up to grab the meat.
The white-yellowish underbelly provides a stark contrast to the beautiful orange, black and brown topside fur. And on rare occasion, you can see one of the white Bengal tigers. Often just called a White Tiger or White Cat, these animals are Bengal tigers but with a mutant recessive gene that retards the color in their orange fur.
Typically, white tigers are bigger and stronger than their colorful counterparts. But just like Bengals, their black stripes are like a fingerprint, a unique pattern that is not duplicated among any other tiger. If you were to shave a tiger, it’s black fur pattern would be visible on its body.
On even rarer occasions, as in only a handful in history, there are tigers born with no stripes. A genetic mutation that causes the fingerprint of color stripes to not develop. These tigers are hard to find and breed to produce similarly stripeless tigers. There is a line of golden tigers, not quite white, but abundant enough to be seen at most sanctuaries, they are called the Golden Tabby Cats.
The success of these preserves in India speaks volumes to the success wildlife protection programs can have when there is popular support and a strong leader who makes the initiative. Allowing the opportunity for commercial enterprises also helps build support among the business community as well as the local governments who often must relinquish land as part of the preserve.
These successful efforts should be reviewed by those interested in creating such facilities in their countries. You can visit Project Tiger and learn more about their efforts and the numerous public, private and government entities participating in this successful initiative.