Pumping money alone can't save tigers

Pumping money alone can't save tigers

It was in news recently that as per the latest official survey, the global tiger count has gone up to 3,890 and India contributes the maximum with a count of 2,226. According to the Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, the number has been rising in the last 2 years, and he claimed in the 3rd Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation (April 12-14, 2016) that India has nearly 2,500 tigers.

While conservationists beseech caution in presenting the data, the prime minister and the environment minister are over excited to swank of a 30-40% population increase of Indian tigers. Initially, the numbers seem impressive for the common folk and they rejoice in the fact that our big cat population has gone up by 30% in just 4 years. The government lauded the news as an astonishing evidence of victory in conservation.

Despite having a 1.26 billion strong human population, India is the world leader in protecting tigers. It spends more resources and money than any other country on tiger conservation.

Immense conservation challenges, from habitat loss and human encroachment to poaching, disease and pollution were haunting the country for decades. Still, India manages to keep about 70% of the world’s wild tigers on less than 25% of the world’s tiger habitat.

Several field scientists and NGOs were working hard in the past several years for the cause of conservation in our country, often being targeted and scoffed at by the development obsessed communities and governments. Such conservation efforts appear to be working.

But the enthusiastic ministers misinterpreting the numbers, trumpeting false claims of a thriving tiger population could impair conservation efforts in the long run.

Though tigers have high birth rates, their natural death rates are also high.  Factors such as habitat loss and poaching haven’t slowed down. Thus a 30% increase within 4 years is unlikely. At least 110 tigers were killed in 2011-14, barely a drop less from the 118 poached in 2007-10, according to the Wildlife Protection Society of India.

Anurag Danda of the World Wildlife Fund in the Sundarbans, one of many groups that participated in the latest census says that there can be 30% more known tigers, rather than an actual increase in tigers. They all might not have been counted earlier.

Desperate to develop its economy, India faces extreme pressure to convert forests for roads or industrial use. More of those projects will be consented around tiger habitats if the cats are seen to be flourishing. While faithful conservation demands for more undisturbed forests and restoration of corridors by purchase of private lands, the government has already cut the Environment Ministry’s 2015-16 budgets by almost 25%, with funds for tiger conservation tumbling 15%.

Infrastructure projects being sanctioned through pristine forests without consulting experts in ecology makes the conservation scenario depressing in our country.

Irreparable damage
The Supreme Court has recently allowed the widening of a 10km road between 2 tiger sanctuaries in central Madhya Pradesh despite the warning by its own appointed committee that the road would irreparably damage a critical wildlife habitat and invite heavy traffic that might mow down the animals.

In an attempt to ensure free movement of wild animals in protected areas, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) is planning to build underpasses on national highways which pass through forests and wildlife sanctuaries. Impacts of such constructions on wildlife is least discussed.

Tigers cannot be conserved by pumping money from corporates who are benefitted by forest land. Space is the biggest need.

In the backdrop of the latest census which showed considerable increase in tigers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the inaugural address of the Asian ministerial conference on tiger conservation announced that tiger conservation is not a drag on development and pledged to support infrastructure projects passing through protected forests.

India’s greatest conservation strength is its rural population. Villagers long ago learned to live alongside the predators and appreciate their importance towards maintaining order within an ecosystem.

Business interests such as selling tigers to other countries are at the expense of the umbilical connection that our ecosystem and people have with their soil and water.

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