‘Tiger’, one of the most beautiful and culturally important animals on this earth is on the verge of extinction. India is one of the rare countries where this magnificent living being is found. At the turn of the 20th century, the estimated tiger population in the country stood at 40,000. However, greed of some people has led to such a situation where the number stands at alarming 1,498.
Dr K Shankar, a research coordinator at the Wildlife Institute of India, shared his views in an interview with Biplob Ghosal of Zeenews.com on several issues relating to the big cat, ranging from poaching to relocating people living in tiger reserves.
Dr Shankar has done his PhD on herbivore ecology in Sariska Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan. He is currently working on sympatric carnivores, mountain ungulates and tiger re-introduction in Sariska Tiger Reserve. He is also a member of the IUCN Deer Specialist Group.
Biplob: Its 30 years since Project Tiger was launched. How do you evaluate the project’s success?
Dr Shankar: The Project Tiger was indeed a success, certainly resulting in the increase of tiger population in many reserves. Also, the programme gave adequate protection to the entire environment under one umbrella.
Biplob: Recent reports show a significant decline in tiger numbers. What according to you is the main reason behind such an alarming trend?
Dr Shankar: The traditional pugmark census might have overestimated tiger population in some protected areas. In addition, the reporting system by the park officials regarding the estimated tiger numbers was questionable. This resulted in an inflated figure of tiger population in some areas. The Wildlife Institute of India’s new approach for monitoring tiger, co-predators, prey and their habitat should be continued. The estimation of tiger population should be done by camera trapping in select areas to obtain precise tiger numbers, and in larger landscapes tiger abundance should be evaluated based on their indirect evidences.
Biplob: Where has the government failed to protect tigers?
Dr Shankar: Poaching was found to be the ultimate reason for the decline of tiger population in many areas.
Biplob:What do you think are the reasons behind the perceived failure of Sariska experiment?
Dr Shankar: Sariska Tiger Re-introduction is indeed a success wherein an initial population of five tigers (two males and three females) which were relocated from Ranthambore. Thereby, we have restored the western most limits of Royal Bengal Tigers in India and also restored the ecological balance in the ecosystem.
Biplob: As tiger is the most important aspect of an ecosystem, what will be the consequences if the number of tigers keeps falling?
Dr Shankar: It will lead to ecological imbalance. After the tigers were exterminated in Sariska, the large prey populations such as Nilgai, Sambar and wild pig doubled their numbers in three years. This led to extensive crop grazing in villages. This may happen in other areas as well, when the top predator is exterminated.
Biplob: Tiger parts are in demand in which countries and why?
Dr Shankar: People of Chinese origin believe in using traditional Chinese medicine wherein tiger body parts are used to cure various medical ailments such as joint pains, body ache etc.
Biplob: The National Conservation Authority has passed an order that no tourist should be allowed to enter the core tiger territory. What’s your view on the issue? Don’t you think that tourism creates more awareness among the public about the urgent need to save this animal?
Dr Shankar: I am not aware of this order by NTCA. However, in core tiger breeding areas there should not be any tourism activity and there should be minimum disturbance in these areas. Otherwise, tigers will not breed and no cubs will be seen.
Biplob:Will the Green India Mission meant to enhance the forest cover benefit in conserving the tigers?
Dr Shankar: Enhancing forest cover will take some time, may be at least 10 years. We need to wait till then. The need of the hour is relocation of villages from the National Park areas of the Tiger Reserves to create inviolate space for tiger breeding, to allow the pre population to build up. If the people are given fair deal and compensation, they will be more than willing to move out of Tiger Reserves. The current package offered by the government of India, Rs 10 lakhs per individual as compensation, seems to be an attractive package.