Anyone who’s had the privilege of participating in a dedicated Tiger watching tour will understand the indescribable thrill of being able to observe this spectacular creature in its natural habitat. With less than 4,000 of the animals remaining in the wild, the privilege of this experience cannot be overstated. |
Conservation: An On-going Battle for Survival
Declining numbers of the big cat have led to a growing awareness for the need for its conservation, and one of the most pressing issues is the need to return as many captive Tigers into their natural habitat as possible. To this end, rehabilitation projects have been set up around the world in order to properly prepare them for their release.
The Road to Rehabilitation
The prerequisites for release include an ability to look after themselves, a healthy physical state and a low propensity to attacking local communities. There are numerous reasons why the big cats may be held in captivity: they could be born to a captive mother in a zoo, captured by local villagers out of safety fears, or injured. Whatever the reason, before they can be released they must: a) be able to defend themselves against potential predators and b) be able to hunt prey.
But it isn’t a one size fits all approach, and a rehabilitation project must take into account a range of factors, including the natural diet of the particular sub-species, the level of previous human interaction and the proposed habitat.
Retraining for Release
During the process of rehabilitation, the level of human interaction is drastically reduced to a role of observation and monitoring only. The first step to rehabilitation is to retrain the animal to hunt for its own food sources. Even if they’ve only been in captivity for a very short time they become used to being fed by humans and quickly lose the instinct to hunt. In order to build this up again, keepers will hide the carcasses of fresh killed game around the enclosure so they have to find it using the scent. This is not only to get them used to having to work for their food, but also to get them accustomed to the taste of wild meat rather than whatever they’ve been eating in captivity (often chicken or domesticated meat, which has an entirely different scent and taste).
In some cases, while it is a somewhat contentious practice, the next step is to introduce live prey so the Tiger can hunt it in the enclosure. Even though this is exactly what it would/will do in the wild, some anti-cruelty organisations object and it is not legal practice in every country.
Into the World
When the animal is ready for release it is tagged so monitoring can continue. It is tracked carefully and, if there are signs that it is in distress or not coping in any way, it may be recaptured to review and continue the process.
The Thrill of Tiger Watching in the Wild
Getting as many of these magnificent creatures back into the wild to breed and regenerate their global population is one of the most important conservation issues of our time. Responsible Tiger watching tours exist so we can enjoy the thrill of being able to encounter them in the only place they should exist – their natural environment.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Tiger watching. Being passionate about her subject, Marissa chooses the expert-led wildlife holidays organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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