Bringing smile to the face of conservationists, India`s 2011 Tiger census shows a major rise in the big cat’s numbers at 1,706 against 1,411 in 2006 - an increase of 295 tigers. The latest census includes about 70 of them in the marshes of the Sunderbans, which have never been scientifically surveyed before. But, the habitat loss, which is often irreversible, has posed a severe concern to the glorious creatures.
‘Project Tiger’, launched in 1973-74, and which is administered by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, has been one of the most successful conservation ventures in recent times. The project aims at tiger conservation in specially constituted reserves representative of various regions throughout India and strives to maintain viable population of Bengal tigers in their natural environment.
India, with more than half of the world’s tigers, now has a vital role to play to save this iconic species from annihilation. Even as the number of the animal has gone up by 12 percent in the last four years, there are some flaws in the conversation process as thirty per cent of the tiger population survives in areas outside the government`s reserves, giving fresh challenges for the ecologists in stepping up effort to protect this genus.
Although, the rise in the numbers was indeed a moment of jubilation for animal enthusiasts, the reliability of the new count was not too convincing for sections of biologists, questioning the methodology used- the magic figures, lack of scientific rigour, faulty camera-traps etc.
Yet, the decline in the big cats’ territory poses a grave threat to the endangered group as their occupancy areas shrunk from 9 million hectares to less than 7.5 million hectares over the last four years. Mining, power projects and other developmental activities are the main motives of destruction in tiger’s corridor.
While Karnataka reported highest number of tigers (300) followed by Madhya Pradesh (257) and Uttarakhand (227), Tamil Nadu and Kerala have also shown good results in conservation efforts. Although Kaziranga in Assam has 100 tigers, making it the largest in a single reserve, there are distressing signs from the North Eastern area due to poaching and developmental activities.
However, the Union Environment and Forest Ministry`s decision to introduce annual monitoring of tigers in all the 41 tiger reserves this year is a good sign and was hailed by ecologists. The new initiative to begin in November will also provide us vital parameters of tiger populations, including the birth and death rates of tigers and their association patterns in the reserve areas.
Perhaps, an honest effort with a shared initiative from the government, non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations are required to preserve the majestic ‘Tiger’, which appears on a comeback trail, and is also regarded as the national animal of India.