The Lone Hunter: Bengal Tiger
Habitat: India, Nepal and China
Population: 2,500 worldwide
Average size: 10 feet long; 550 pounds
The stealthy and powerful Bengal tiger has a history of being both feared and revered by local populations across South Asia. In Hindu mythology, the goddess Durga is often depicted riding a tiger, while tigers represent royalty in the Chinese tradition. Naga tribes in Myanmar and India believe that men and tigers are brothers, a departure from the tiger’s fearsome reputation as a “man-eater.” The Bengal tiger has a distinctive striped coat—and no two tigers have exactly the same stripes. When a tiger roars, it can be heard from as far as two miles away.
The Gentle Giant: Mountain Gorilla
Habitat: Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda
Population: About 900
Average life span: 35 years
In much of the western world, mountain gorillas were once thought to be a mythical creature, like Bigfoot, until the early twentieth century. In 1902, German explorer and Army Captain Robert von Beringe encountered the mountain gorilla in the Virunga Mountains and helped establish this large ape as a separate subspecies of the gorilla. The mountain gorilla’s Latin classification—gorilla gorilla beringei—honors Robert von Beringe’s discovery.
The Singer-Songwriter of the Seas: Humpback Whale
Habitat: Earth’s oceans
Population: 30,000 to 40,000
Average life span: Up to 80 years
Average size: 50 feet (about as long as a school bus)
Whales have captured the imagination of humans since ancient times. The Chinese believed the seas were ruled by a deity with the body of a whale and the hands and feet of a human. Great whales are also specifically mentioned in the King James Bible’s Book of Genesis as one of the first sea creatures created by God. Humpback whales are one of the largest species of whales, renowned for their acrobatic performances in the water and their unusual songs. Scientists have discovered that male humpback whales sing long, complex “songs” that can 10 to 20 minutes. Humpback whales sing in a variety of “dialects” because the songs are unique to the part of the world where the whales live.
The Person of the Forest: Orangutan
Habitat: Borneo and Sumatra
Population: Estimated 50,000 to 60,000
Average life span: 30 to 40 years
In Indonesia, legend has it that orangutans have the ability to speak but chose to became silent after human beings entered the forest. Orangutans supposedly feared that humans would enslave them if they found out the forest dwellers could speak. These long-armed, intelligent primates are close relatives of humans, sharing 97 percent of the same DNA, and the word orangutan means "people of the forest" in the local Malay language. Orangutans have an enormous arm span—up to 7 or 8 feet—allowing them to swing with ease between treetops. When it rains, orangutans often fashion umbrellas from leaves to keep themselves dry.
The King of the Jungle: Lion
Habitat: Sub-Saharan Africa and Western India
Population: 25,000 to 30,000 worldwide
Average Life Span: 12 to 16 years
Celebrated worldwide for their fierceness and strength, lions are often referred to as the “king of the jungle” and, thus, associated with royalty. The official emblem of India features a pillar with four lions standing back to back, a symbol first adopted by Emperor Ashoka in 250 B.C. In other parts of Asia, lion statues act as guardians to Buddhist temples and the Forbidden City in Beijing. Lions live in groups known as prides. Female lions do most of the hunting for the pride and work in teams to bring down their prey, while male lions are responsible for defending the group’s territory.
Experience the wonder of seeing lions, Bengal tigers, orangutans, mountain gorillas and other incredible animals up-close in their natural habitats.