Panthera tigris is the national animal of India. Out of eight races of the species known, the Indian race, the Royal Bengal Tiger, is found throughout the country except in the north-western region and also in the neighbouring countries, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. To check the dwindling population of tigers in India, ‘Project Tiger’ was launched in April 1973. So far, 27 tiger reserves have been established in the country under this project, covering an area of 37,761 sq km.
The Bengal tiger has been a national symbol of India since about the 25th century BCE when it was displayed on the Pashupati seal of the Indus Valley Civilisation. On the seal, the tiger, being the largest, represents the Yogi Shiva’s people. The tiger was later the symbol of the Chola Empire from 300 CE to 1279 CE and is now designated as the official animal of India.
The Project Tiger initiative launched in 1972 initially reversed the population decline, the decline has resumed in recent years; India’s tiger population decreased from 3,642 in the 1990s to just over 1,400 from 2002 to 2008. Since then, the Indian government has undertaken several steps to reduce the destruction of the Bengal tiger’s natural habitat in India.