ISunday, BBC1, 8pm Eye of the tiger
n the 19th century, tigers abounded in the jungles of Asia, from northern India to southern China, Indochina, Malaysia and beyond. But these elusive, mythical, dangerous and beautiful animals were bound to attract the particular attention of pith-helmeted Victorian hunters, who slaughtered them in droves and used their skins to adorn the floors of fusty clubs across the British Empire. In the early 1900s, an estimated 100,000 tigers still lived in the wild: by 2011, the number had dwindled to 2,300, as hunting, poaching and human encroachment on the animals’ habitats added to the risk of their eventually becoming extinct altogether, apart from the tigers who’ve been bred for many decades in zoos.
Of course, totemic animals like tigers and polar bears are symbols of a larger catastrophe currently besetting
nature: it’s estimated that, since 1970, mankind’s exponential expansion has wiped out up to 60pc of the Earth’s mammals, fish, birds and reptiles. But in the case of the tiger, it’s not all bad news, and in India a sustained government programme to establish national parks and combat poaching has seen a steady increase in numbers over the last half decade.
This last episode of the BBC’s spectacular short series profiling some of the planet’s most charismatic but endangered creatures is set in the Bandhavgarh National Park in central India, where the roving female Raj Bhera has just had four cubs. Her territory is wide, but at exactly the worst moment a number of rivals are beginning to encroach, including her own adult daughter, Solo. So Raj Bhera will have to take a big risk if her latest family unit is to survive.