Bleak future

The year has started on a grim note for the country’s tiger population. Three tigers have been reported dead from Jim Corbett National Park and surrounding areas over the past week. While one tiger seems to have died in fighting with another tiger over food, the role of poachers in the death of the other two is being investigated. If 2009 was described by the National Tiger Conservation Authority as a ‘very bad year’ for tigers — Union Minister of Environment and Forests has admitted that the tiger death toll in 2009 was the highest in several years — it does seem that 2010 could prove more disastrous for the tigers. The global trade in tigers is a lucrative one, encouraging poachers to slay the cats with little concern for their dwindling numbers. China, which is a key link in the tiger trade, has come under pressure to crackdown on the market for tiger body parts. So high is the profit from the trade that Indian poachers are undeterred by the fines that killing tigers attract. Poachers are also provided protection by a network that includes politicians, police and forest officials.

The Indian tiger is also threatened by loss of habitat to roads, dams and mining projects allowed inside national parks and sanctuaries. And the environment ministry has given its nod for such projects. It has, for instance, given its consent to a limestone mining plant on the periphery of the Rajiv Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary in Andhra Pradesh, one of the finest habitats for the tiger.

India’s half-hearted approach to tiger conservation is disappointing. Its pious words on tiger conservation are not matched by action on the ground. Not only is the government complicit in the decimation of the tiger population by allowing projects that destroy habitat but also, it is downplaying the extent of the threat to the tiger. Official estimates put the number of tigers killed last year at around 59, while wildlife experts peg the number at over 80. Later this month, environment ministers will meet at Bangkok to strategise on saving the world’s tigers. And in February, global tiger experts will meet at Uttarakhand to find scientific ways to protect the big cat. None of these international efforts will succeed in saving the tiger, if India remains lethargic in protecting its national animal.

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