Tiger being a keystone species is the symbol of courage and strength in India. This charismatic species has earned its pride as a National animal of India. It features in the National emblem adopted by the Government of India in 1950. India is one of the important Tiger range countries and has more than 70% of the world’s wild tigers and is in a leadership position on the tiger front globally.
The largest Tiger Reserve in India is Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve (Andhra Pradesh, Telangana) and the smallest Tiger Reserve in India is Bor Tiger Reserve (Maharashtra). According to the Tiger Census Report, 2019, the Tiger population has substantially increased from 2,226 in 2014 to around 2,967 in 2019. Madhya Pradesh saw the highest number of tigers (526) followed by Karnataka (524) and Uttarakhand (442).
Why Tiger conservation is essential?
- The tiger is not just a charismatic species or just another wild animal living in some faraway forest. It is a top predator/Umbrella species that is at the apex of the food chain and keeps the population of wild ungulates in check, thereby maintaining the balance between prey herbivores and the vegetation upon which they feed. They prevent over-grazing by limiting herbivore numbers and maintain ecological integrity.
- Therefore, the presence of tigers in the forest is an indicator of the well-being of the ecosystem. The extinction of this top predator is an indication that its ecosystem is not sufficiently protected, and neither would it exist for long thereafter.
- Another reason why we need to save the tiger is that our forests are water catchment areas. Most tiger habitats are watershed areas of rivers and streams and in turn, improve soil fertility. Thus conserving tigers help conserve freshwater resources, regulate droughts or heavy rains, and benefits the downstream communities.
- Tigers attracting tourists, which provide income for local communities.
- Also, there is a tremendous decline in the tiger population as compared to the past 100 years, and to prevent the deteriorating condition of tigers, it’s important to conserve them. Three tiger reserves of India: Mizoram’s Dampa reserve, West Bengal’s Buxa reserve, and Jharkhand’s Palamau reserve have no tigers left.
By conserving and saving tigers the entire wilderness ecosystem is conserved. It is crucial to maintain the life support system. So saving the tiger amounts to saving the ecosystem which is crucial for man’s survival.
Global Tiger Day also called International Tiger Day is an annual event marked to raise awareness for tiger conservation. It is observed every year on July 29. It was started in 2010 with an aim to promote a global system to protect the Natural Habitats of Tigers and raise awareness among people to support the conservation plan and their need to support it.
Threats include habitat loss, poaching, and man-animal conflict.
- Habitat loss: There are more tiger reserves in India but their connectivity is less. These isolated population can hinder their survival in the long run.
- Tiger Poaching: This has seriously impacted the probability of survival of Tigers in India. Tigers are mainly poached for their bones and other body parts which are in great demand for traditional Chinese medicines.Tigers in the wild are killed illegally to fuel the demand for Tiger products such as Tiger skins and Tiger Bone Wine. Thus every part of tiger has a market value and there is a huge demand for tiger skins, parts & derivatives drive an increasingly sophisticated network of illegal wildlife trade across all tiger range countries. As a result, demand is driving wild tigers to the brink of extinction, with 97% of the world’s wild tiger population wiped out over the last century. It has become a pride to possess a tiger’s parts namely its skin, nail, bones, and so on.
- Man-animal conflict: Fragmentation of their habitats has increased tigers moving to nearby human habitations and this, in turn, has increased man-animal conflict.
There was a political commitment at the central level in the 1970s to conserve Tigers and this led to a law called Wildlife Protection Act in 1972 and subsequently, it created National Parks and Wildlife sanctuaries which paid special attention to Tiger Conservation.
For more detailed information about tiger reserves and their location, please follow the below link of one of the best IAS institute in Bangalore:
The following map shows the tiger reserves in India:
National Tiger Conservation Authority(NTCA):
- The NTCA was launched in 2005, is a statutory body under the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change constituted following the recommendations of the Tiger Task Force. It was given statutory status by the 2006 amendment of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 for strengthening tiger conservation, through advisories/normative guidelines
- Composition: The authority consists of the Minister in charge of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (as Chairperson), the Minister of State in the Ministry of Environment and Forests (as Vice-Chairperson), three members of Parliament, Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests and other members.
- Objectives: Objectives include
- Fostering accountability of Centre-State in management of Tiger Reserves
- Addressing man-animal conflicts
- Addressing livelihood interests of local people in areas surrounding Tiger Reserves
- Provide information on protection measures including future conservation plan, estimation of population of tiger and its natural prey species, the status of habitats, disease surveillance, mortality survey, patrolling, approve, co-ordinate research and monitoring on tiger
- Ensure critical support including scientific, information technology, and legal support.
- NTCA provides technical and financial support to Tiger Reserves.
- The first-ever initiative for the conservation of tigers was the Project Tiger. The Project Tiger, launched in 1973, has grown to more than 50 reserves amounting to almost 2.2% of the country’s geographical area.
- It is an ongoing Centrally Sponsored Scheme of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, providing funding support to tiger range States for in-situ conservation of tigers in designated tiger reserves, and has put the endangered tiger on an assured path of recovery by saving it from extinction, as revealed by the recent findings of the All India tiger estimation using the refined methodology.
- The tiger reserves are constituted on a core/buffer strategy.
- Due to concerted efforts under Project Tiger, at present India has the distinction of having the maximum number of tigers in the world at 2,967 (SE range 2,603 to 3,346) as per 2018 assessment, when compared to other tiger range countries. Tigers were observed to be increasing at a rate of 6% per annum in India when consistently sampled areas were compared from 2006 to 2018.
Organizations or Forums involved in Tiger Conservation:
- Global Tiger Forum(GTF): It is an Inter-Governmental international body working exclusively for the conservation of Tigers. Established in 1994, the Global Tiger Forum (GTF) has its headquarters in New Delhi set up to promote a worldwide campaign to save the tiger, its prey, and its habitat.
- The Global Tiger Initiative(GTI): It was launched in 2008 as a global alliance of governments, international organizations, civil society, conservation, and scientific communities, and the private sector, to work together to save wild tigers from extinction. In 2013, the scope was broadened to include Snow Leopards.
- Wildlife Institute of India (WII): Wildlife Institute of India (WII) offers training programs, academic courses, and advisory in wildlife research and management. It was established in 1982 at Dehradun. It is an autonomous Institution of the Ministry of Environment & Forests.
- World Wildlife Fund(WWF): It works to conserve and connect tiger habitat, monitors tigers and their prey, and collaborates with governments across the 13 tiger range countries to protect wild tigers.
Tiger Conservation Plan:
According to Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, The respective State Government prepares a Tiger Conservation Plan including staff development and deployment plan for the proper management of each area to ensure
(a) Protection of the tiger reserve and providing tiger reserve specific habitat inputs for maintaining a viable population of tigers, co-predators, and prey animals.
(b) Ecologically compatible land uses in tiger reserves and areas linking one Protected Area (PA) with another PA or tiger reserve for providing dispersal habitat and corridors.
(c) Forestry operations of regular forest divisions and divisions adjoining tiger reserves are not incompatible with the needs of tiger conservation.
- Tiger populations are estimated using the Pugmark Census Technique, camera trapping, DNA fingerprinting, M-STrIPES (Monitoring System for Tigers – Intensive Protection and Ecological Status) is an app-based monitoring system, and LIDAR-based survey technology. It is coupled with a robust statistical framework for understanding tiger population dynamics.
- Every 4 years the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) conducts a tiger census across India.
- The first was conducted in 2006, followed by 2010,2014, and in 2018. The next Tiger census will be held in the year 2022.
- The estimation exercises have become increasingly more accurate over the years. Wildlife officials used mobile application M-STrIPES (Monitoring System For Tigers-Intensive Protection and Ecological Status) to estimate the big cat population.
- The M-STrIPES, the application used by forest guards, is GPS-enabled and helps to capture data relating to tiger sightings, deaths, wildlife crime, and ecological observations while patrolling
- A tiger reserve is demarcated based on ‘core-buffer strategy’ which includes:
(i) Core zone
(ii) Buffer zone
The following table lists the Tiger reserves in India:
|Sl No||Tiger Reserve (TR)||State||Total Area (sq km)|
|Amanagarh buffer||Uttar Pradesh||80.60|
|15||Nagarjunsagar Sagar||Andhra Pradesh||3,296.31|
|17||Kalakad Mundanthurai||Tamil Nadu||1,601.54|
|25||Pench – MH||Maharashtra||741.22|
|35||Sanjay Dhubri||Madhya Pradesh||1,674.50|
|40||Biligiri Ranganatha Temple||Karnataka||574.82|
|51||Srivilliputhur Megamalai||Tamil Nadu||1016.57|
International Cooperation for Tiger Conservation:
- India has a bilateral understanding with Nepal on controlling transboundary illegal trade in wildlife and has signed a protocol on tiger conservation with China.
- India has signed a with Bangladesh for the conservation of the Royal Bengal Tiger.
- A sub-group on tiger/leopard conservation has been constituted for cooperation with the Russian Federation.
- A Global Tiger Forum of Tiger Range Countries has been created for addressing international issues related to tiger conservation.
- India is a party to CITES. CITES’ landmark decision states that ‘tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts and derivatives.
Challenges associated with Tiger conservation and steps needed to address it:
IUCN has declared the tiger an endangered species. It is listed in schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act,1972 to ensure the highest level of protection to tigers in India.
- Tiger range areas have diminished significantly. There is a need for more Tiger corridors. This helps them to move freely and increase gene-pool exchange. This ultimately helps in sustaining and increasing the tiger population
- Need to address man-animal conflict. This has become a serious issue and reducing tiger corridors has increased their movement to nearby human habitation. This poses a threat to both human and animal life.
- Government steps and technical support alone will not be sufficient and the involvement of people especially the local communities as part of the tiger conservation effort will benefit the whole ecosystem and provide vital livelihood support to the people. This addresses the dual issue of providing them livelihood support by conservation of Nature and supports them economically.
- Need to focus more on Ecotourism. It is responsible tourism where many people deprived of their traditional means of livelihood were compensated economically. Tigers also get habituated with humans.
- Development and conservation should go hand-in-hand. Construction of roads or railway lines and the movement of vehicles through the Tiger range areas needs to be strictly planned and monitored to ensure there is less or no restriction on their movement or loss of their life. Creating tunnels for the passage of vehicles and trains can address this issue.
- Need to strengthen Environment Impact Assessment process. It is vital to conform socio-economic development projects to environmental safety and thereby ensure sustainable economic development.
- Tiger being the Umbrella species, the balance of nature and area is ensured. Tiger conservation helps conserve many other species which also needs to be conserved. It includes small animals, pollinators and in turn aids conservation of water and soil. Thus the whole gamut of activities gets related to tiger conservation.
- The issue of Climate Change and shifting of tiger range based on its effects need to be given enough attention.
- Spread of covid-19 infection from humans to animals. The covid-19 pandemic has posed serious threats to Tigers. Recently a tiger in Pench Tiger Reserve (Madhya Pradesh) has died due to respiratory illness and a 10-year-old tiger died at Ranchi’s Bhagwan Birsa Biological Park after suffering from fever. Four lions at Barcelona Zoo tested positive in December. This shows that it is theoretically possible for the virus to mutate again to survive in certain species after being transmitted by humans and had become a new challenge to be addressed immediately.
Despite these huge challenges, India has achieved a population of 3000 tigers in the country which is 70% of the world’s wild tigers. India has a total of 50 tiger reserves covering large areas.
- India’s 2018 Tiger Census has made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for being the world’s largest camera trapping wildlife survey.
- India has also fulfilled its resolution to double the Tiger numbers made at the St. Petersburg Tiger Summit in 2010, before the target year of 2022.
- The tiger numbers in India have increased from around 1500 in 2010 to 2976 in 2020.
- Special Tiger Protection Force(STPF): It was constituted by NTCA for protecting tigers in landscapes vulnerable to poaching in selected Tiger Reserves
- Conservation of tigers may not be an easy task. Proper implementation of projects and programs and the right usage of funds allocated will help in the long run.
- Voluntary relocation of communities along with the tiger reserves and ensuring social justice along with tiger conservation are essential. Enough compensation to the people needs to be provided and the social upliftment of these communities should be focussed.
- Conservation being dynamic, the plans should be futuristic. There is a need to evolve different processes and methods to ensure that the Tiger population remains viable along with sustainability.
- Biodiversity conservation has a huge spill economic spill-off as the direct and indirect benefits of Tiger conservation are huge. When we invest in wild tigers, we can help save many other species. This reliance on bountiful natural resources means that conserving natural tiger habitat is vital to the survival of traditional and indigenous peoples across Asia.
There is a need to align our strategies with the new challenges and new reality and shift our emphasis towards it.