For anyone with a passion for wildlife, Tiger tours to India offer the opportunity to observe one of the world's most remarkable animals in its natural habitat. Accompanied by a qualified naturalist, well-organised, responsible Tiger tours afford participants the rare privilege of an encounter with an animal that has fascinated us since ancient times. |
While Tiger tours offer a glimpse into the big cat's behaviours and habitat, understanding more about its origins can offer a different kind of insight.
Fossilised remains discovered in China have been dated back more than two million years – but scientists are convinced that this (much smaller) animal was closely related to the Sabre Tooth, which dates back some 35 million years. The commonly held belief is that at some stage it evolved into several subspecies, one of which was the Tiger.
From extensive research and DNA testing, it is from this particular big cat – the South China Tiger – that researchers believe all other subspecies evolved. (Sadly, scientists say that the South China Tiger will be extinct in less than 10 years if drastic conservation measures are not put in place.)
A Genetic Twist in the Tale
In a fascinating twist, genetic profiling has revealed that the Sumatran Tiger is markedly different to every other subspecies, leading scientists to believe that, around 12 million years ago, rising sea levels and other major changes occurring on the surface of the Earth caused them to be isolated from the rest of the population and evolve into their own subspecies.
At the same time, it is believed that the original population of Bengal Tigers moved to what's now known as India.
Completing the Puzzle
While we more or less know the origins of the species, there are still many questions regarding its evolution. With the advent of new technology, researchers hope to be able to map a more complete picture. In particular, finding fossils that predate two million years would serve to prove or disprove many of the summations scientists have had to make about what physical characteristics the big cat may have taken in its various stages of evolution.
It's also believed that there may have been many more subspecies of the big cat at different times throughout the Earth's history, but without solid scientific proof, such theories must remain just that.
A Delicate Balance of Past, Present and Future
The danger, scientists and conservationists warn, is that the big cat's endangered status will result in the eventual extinction of the species – leaving many of the questions regarding its evolution unanswered. With limited funding to go around there are two aspects to consider, with many believing that the money is far better spent on the implementation of programmes designed to ensure the animal's future survival, rather than to unlock the mysteries of its past.
Whatever the consensus (and there's unlikely to be one), with several millions of years' evolution under its belt, the responsibility lies with the current generations to do everything possible to ensure this magnificent creature does not disappear on our watch.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Tigers. Being passionate about her subject, Marissa chooses the expert-led Tiger tours 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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