The need to support tiger conservation

The need to support tiger conservation

The celebration of tiger day by different agencies signifies their rededication for the conservation of this flagship species. If tigers are protected in the wild, all other wild animals and the habitats are protected.

Mankind has learnt lessons from fury of nature — flood, landslide and dep­leting perennial flow of water in rivers and their tributaries from catchment areas — and has realised that the protection of wildlife is the protection of forests and vice versa.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests has come a long way in supporting tiger conservation in our country. The Project Tiger was started in nine protected areas in 1973, thereafter many states notified additional tiger reserves.

The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 was amended in 2004 to include a chapter on NTCA. Along with core areas of tiger reserve, buffer areas were notified around them, which were taken from adjoining territorial divisions. The Tiger Conservation Plan in respect of core, buffer and corridors are in place in many reserves.

Buffer areas are general­ly human dominated areas wh­ere security of straying tiger is addressed. Alternative livelihood options for the people and proper education and awa-
reness campaigns in favour of conservation are also carried out in buffer areas. Amended provision also lays down that tiger reserves are inviolate are-
as and should be kept free fr­om human and cattle population. Relocation of families fr-
om the core area of the reser­ve is the most important programme supported by NTCA.

The area under tiger occup­ancy, which was nearly 1 lakh sq km about 100 years ago, has now reduced to only 20,000 sq km. Due to explosi­on of human and cattle population, forest areas are diverted for development proje­cts resulting in loss and fragmentation of habitats and corridors.

The Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun with the support of forest departments of tiger states has been conducting the all India tiger estimation once in four years. Already, it has been conducted thrice — in 2006, 2010 and 2014. The mean value of the estimated tiger number as observed in this exercise was 1,400, 1,700 and 2,200, respectively. Although there is an increasing trend in tiger number, the area occupied by tigers is stagnant/decreasing.

Human-tiger conflict

If the area is stagnant and the tiger number is increasing, there are more tigers per unit area which leads to human-tiger conflict. Tiger, being a territorial animal, fights for its territory and the loser is either killed or pushed out of the reserves. When young males establish their home ranges, the older ones get pushed out in human areas where they come in conflict.

Depending on the quality of habitat and prey density, a particular tiger reserve can hold at the most 10 to 18 tigers per 100 sq km. The maximum tiger density in Bandipur and Nagarahole Tiger Reserves of Karnataka is 10 to 12 tigers per 100 sq km while that of Corbett in Uttarakhand, Kanha of Madhya Pradesh and Kaziranga of Assam have 16 to 18 tigers per 100 sq km.

There are well-established NTCA protocols for capture of conflict tigers, rescuing the cubs where the mother has died, post mortem of dead tigers etc. There are reports from many areas of conflict leading to death of human and domestic cattle. Forest officers are under increasing pressure to deal with these cases.

Poaching of tigers for body parts and skin is also prevalent in many states especially in northern and central part of the country. Often, the accused caught on the scene are not the kingpins and rarely the interrogation busts the syndicate. It is heartening to note that the courts are sensitive in these cases and conviction rate is improving.

The managements of tiger reserves focus on protection as well as relocation of families. For viable tiger population, we need 800 to 1,200 sq km of inviolate forests with adequate prey density. Such areas would be occupied by 70 to 75 tigers including 25 breeding females. If there are one or two poaching per year in such areas, the tigers would still survive and not vanish.

(The writer is retired Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Karnataka)
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