Perhaps the most commonly known tigers - the prototypical tiger- are those of the Bengal subspecies, a fact curiously exemplified by the redundancy within their technical name: Panthera tigris tigris. This is the animal most of us picture when we think of a tiger.
These days there are more Bengal tigers roaming in the wild than any of the other subspecies. Estimates range between 3000 and 4,500 individuals, spread across India and several of its neighboring countries, including Bangladesh, Nepal, Burma (Myanmar), and Bhutan. There are also several hundred Bengal tigers in captivity, primarily in zoos throughout India.
Known as "Project Tiger," this program dedicated numerous ranges for the Bengal tiger as protected habitat and worked toward limiting, to the greatest degree possible and not without controversy, the amount of human infiltration into those areas. Soon after the implementation of Project Tiger, the success of the program seemed evident due to the apparent resurgence of the wild Bengal tiger population.
Unfortunately, the method used to count the tigers sighted in the censuses came into question, and it remains controversial to this day. Known as the "Pug mark" technique, the method involves tracing and analyzing only the footprints of tigers in an attempt to identify individual animals - strictly through their footprints - and then using those individual sightings to calculate the likely total number of tigers in a given area. Many felid biologists feel that results collected through this method are not at all reliable when it comes to collating a total number of tigers in a given population.
Nevertheless, within a decade of the launch of Project Tiger, it appeared the Bengal subspecies was well on its way to recovery in the wild because of the "inflated" statistics of subsequent censuses. Shortly thereafter however, in the late 1980s, evidence of aggressive poaching and smuggling arose coincidentally as tigers became conspicuously absent in ranges where they had previously been abundant. India proclaimed that it had a Second Tiger Crisis; a proclamation that continues to this day.
Despite the valiant efforts of the Indian Government and many conservation organizations, poaching and habitat loss continue to be severe problems in India, even in the year 2000. More needs to be done to preserve the Bengal tiger.