The Big Cats of India
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The tiger is one of the most legendary animals in the world, but the largest of the big cats is on the verge of extinction. Tigers have been listed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species for decades as "Endangered". Three of the former nine subspecies are already extinct, one most likely only exists in captivity.
Two of the remaining subspecies – the Malayan tiger and the Sumatran tiger – are acutely threatened with extinction. Just 100 years ago, up to 100,000 wild tigers roamed Asia. The catastrophic decline is the result of unbridled poaching for the illegal trade with tiger products, the overhunting of its prey animals as well as the drastic loss and fragmentation of its habitat. Today, about 3900 tigers still live in the wild, more than half of them in India, where the population has experienced a positive upward trend for a few years. India and Nepal are also the only countries where there is a realistic chance of encountering the Bengal or King Tiger in the wild.
The Asiatic or Indian lion is the only subspecies that occurs in Asia. About 2000 years ago, this lion inhabited a range that stretched from Bulgaria and Greece to India. Today, these lions only occur in the Gir National Park in the Indian state of Gujarat. Asiatic lions are somewhat smaller than their African relatives. They also differ in a longitudinal skin fold on the belly, which is missing in Africans.
Im GIn contrast to most African subspecies, the mane hairs of the male Indian lion are rather short. In addition, African and Asiatic lions differ by slight differences in skull structure. The Asiatic lion was practically exterminated by 1913. The ruler of Gujarat, then himself a big game hunter, protected the last 20 or so animals in the Gir forest. In 1955, India banned lion hunting. Ten years later, a 1412 square kilometre reserve for the Indian lions was created in the Gir Forest. In the meantime, the population has grown to over 500 animals. This causes a massive overpopulation for the relatively small reserve. Lions can now also be found outside the reserve, where there are frequent conflicts with humans. For years there have been negotiations to establish a second population in another state in order to reduce the threat of an epidemic, but this project is being torpedoed by Gujarat government by all means, as it claims to own the exclusive right to "its lions".
The leopard has the largest range of all big cats, which stretches from Africa across the Middle East to Southeast Asia. Leopards have since disappeared from around 49 percent of their historical habitat in Africa and 84 percent of their historical habitat in Eurasia.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the leopard is found in nine subspecies and listed as "Vulnerable" on the Red List of Endangered Species. The subspecies represented on the Indian subcontinent are the Indian Leopard and the Sri-Lanka Leopard. The latter lives only on the island Sri Lanka off the southern coast of India. Leopards live in most national parks of the subcontinent, but have to be wary of the stronger tiger or lion in most places and are therefore not easy to spot.
The snow leopard, also known as the "ghost of the mountains", is one of the most beautiful, mysterious and least understood big cats. The snow leopard's range extends across 12 countries and two million square kilometres in Asia, with more than half of its habitat in China. The snow leopard is listed as "Vulnerable" on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species.
Today scientists believe that between 4500 and 10 000 adult snow leopards live in the wild. The exact number is relatively unknown, as the snow leopard is not easy to track down and lives in very rough terrain – even locals practically never see it. Its home are the inaccessible mountain areas of the Himalayas, which are exposed to extremely adverse weather conditions. Recent research with hidden cameras has shown, however, that there are probably more snow leopards than previously assumed. In the Northern state of Jammu & Kashmir, there is a very good chance of tracking down and spotting this mysterious cat with its silvery, bushy fur. A unique experience! Check out our snow leopard program.
A black panther is not a species of its own, but a leopard, whose fur shows a continuous black coloring. Under favorable light-conditions, however, the actually spotted fur-drawing can still be recognized. Therefore, these panthers are not a species of their own, but a form of melanism. Besides leopards there are also black jaguars and other cat species known as panthers.
In leopards, black coloration is caused by the inheritance of a recessive gene. The recessive gene can also be present in the normally coloured species, but is suppressed by the dominant gene which is responsible for the yellow colouring and therefore has no influence on the coat colour. A further inheritance of the recessive gene by normal leopards is possible. Black leopards can therefore occur in a litter of two normally coloured parents if both are carriers of the recessive gene responsible for the black colouring. In India, black leopards occur predominantly in the tropical south – they are typically found where the black coloration is not a disadvantage such as in the dense and shady vegetation of the jungle. Currently, in Tadoba and Nagarahole there are realistic chances of spotting a black panther. Ask for a tailor-made black panther program.
The clouded leopard is probably the most mysterious large cat of the Indian subcontinent and is sighted very rarely. This is due to the fact that it is predominantly nocturnal. The clouded leopard occurs exclusively in India's northeast and south east Asia.
The clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is a curiosity among the cats: Neither to the clan of the small cats (type Felis) nor to that of the big cats (type Panthera) does it fit so rightly. With a head trunk length of usually 80 to 90 centimeters and a weight between 15 and 20 kg it reaches for example nearly the size of a leopard, so it is rather too big for a small cat and too small for a big cat. Its pupils do not constrict in a slit like the typical small cats or in a circle like the big cats, but in a spindle. When resting, it stretches its tail straight backwards, like big cats do, and does not beat it around its paws like small cats. On the other hand, he cannot roar like the big cats, but purrs like a small cat. The experts therefore assign the clouded leopard to an own type (Neofelis).