Tiger, a magnificent creature, is one of the most important constituents of the ecosystem. However the big cats are facing the threat of extinction due to unabated hunting for greed of money, despite global conservation efforts.
While population of tigers is facing a threat globally, that in India is estimated to be around 2,226, a rise of over 30 percent since the last count in 2010, according to the latest census report.
In an exclusive interview, Belinda Wright, one of India`s leading wildlife conservationists, shares her views with Biplob Ghosal of Zee Media Corp on several issues ranging from reasons behind significant surge in tiger population and the Chinese connection to illegal trade and poaching of tigers.
Belinda Wright founded the Wildlife Protection Society of India in 1994. The organisation helps avert India`s wildlife crisis by providing support and information to combat poaching and the escalating illegal wildlife trade.
Biplob: The latest Census shows tiger population has increased by 30 percent in the last three years. How do you view this development?
Belinda: This is very good news for tigers and for India.
Biplob: What according to you has helped achieve a rise in tiger numbers? Have government actions over the past few years yielded results?
Belinda: There has certainly been a lot more focus and funding by the government on better field patrolling and protection, scientific monitoring and village relocation, not to mention increasing the number of tiger reserves to 47. NGOs have also played an important role, assisting in resources and equipment, enforcement efforts with training and intelligence, legal interventions, village relocation, etc. But without casting aspersions on the results, it is still not clear to me what has changed so dramatically on the ground to cause such an increase in tiger numbers. Is it possible that the dramatic rise might actually be due to tiger habitats being covered in a lot more detail, resulting in a more accurate count?
Biplob: Illegal trading of tiger body parts is still rampant in India. Can you throw some light on this illegal business and the Tibet connection?
Belinda: In 2014, tiger poaching and tiger part seizures still accounted for 28 percent of all known tiger deaths, so clearly the trade in tiger parts is still a serious threat to the future of wild tigers. India needs to send a strong and encouraging message to China to make a commitment to end all trade in all tiger parts and products, from all sources, wild and captive. Without reduction in the demand for tiger parts and effective law enforcement in both India and China it will be very difficult to protect tigers. Indeed, tiger farming and legal trade in tiger parts in China make this virtually impossible. A total ban from China would be the single biggest contribution to securing a future for wild tigers.
Biplob: What steps does the government need to take to reduce encounters between tigers and humans, so farmers encroaching forest lands do not force big cats to leave reserves in search for water and food?
Belinda: Hopefully these new tiger figures and the prestige it brings to India will encourage the government to show a lot more caution about approving development projects in the precious tiger landscapes. We need a lot more focus on tiger landscapes and connectivity between different tiger populations. Keeping these landscapes free of large development projects is the very best way to reduce human-tiger conflict.
Biplob: Are Indian laws competent enough to instil fear amongst poachers?
Belinda: The Wild Life (Protection) Act is potentially a strong piece of legislation. It is the implementation that is weak. At the moment, quality of prosecutions and the low level of convictions do not discourage organised wildlife crime. But it certainly could do, if the law was properly implemented.
Biplob: India was once home to 40,000 tigers. Can the country regain that figure?
Belinda: India no longer has enough tiger habitat and prey species to sustain such large numbers. But if we respect and protect the little we do have left, there is certainly enough tiger habitat to sustain many more tigers - perhaps double what we have today.