Heartening figures

India’s efforts to save the tiger have met with some success. The latest tiger census indicates that the number of tigers in the wild has grown by 20 per cent since the last census in 2007. If one excludes the 20 tigers counted in the Sunderbans — the Sunderban tiger population was not included in the last head count — then the increase in the country’s tiger population is 16 per cent. When the 2007 census yielded 1,411 tigers, it set off alarm bells ringing as the tiger population had declined by 1,089 in the preceding five years. It prompted India’s conservation experts and activists to put in place a raft of measures aimed at arresting the decline. The latest figures indicate that they have succeeded somewhat. Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala seem to have done a particularly good job in protecting the big cat. The census has revealed that the single largest concentration of tigers in the world is in the Kerala-Tamil Nadu-Karnataka trijunction. While there is reason for quiet satisfaction, it is far too early to celebrate. Hearing the roar of the tiger in the wild is still a rarity; seeing it even more so. There were 1,00,000 tigers in the country at the turn of the last century. We have a long way to go.

The tiger is one of the most hunted animals on the face of the earth. Tiger bones, claws and skin are hugely coveted as they are used in making traditional Chinese medicine. The high premium placed on tiger parts has encouraged a booming trade, one that is protected by powerful vested interests, especially in China. There are other threats too to tigers besides poaching. One is the shrinking habitat for tigers. The growing human population and haphazard development have resulted in shrinking forests. This has denied tigers and other wildlife of their traditional homes. They end up straying into villages where terrified people kill the tigers. That the country’s tiger corridors are reducing rapidly is reason for serious concern.

The findings of the latest tiger census indicate that India is on the right path. However, efforts need to be intensified. Besides, it requires public participation. It is only if the general public joins hands with the government in ending poaching that India’s magnificent tigers can rid themselves of the label of an endangered species.

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