Secure these tigers, too

Secure these tigers, too

Secure these tigers, too

The heads of states of 13 Tiger Range Countries (TRCs) met in St Petersburg, Russia, in 2010 and expressed concern over dwindling tiger numbers in wild. They resolved to double the number by 2022. Hunting of wild ungulates, degradation of habitats and corridors, and poaching of tigers for skin and body parts are the main reasons identified for the dwindling numbers.

Since 2006, the Indian tiger estimation exercise has been conducted once every four years. 70% of the wild tigers found in TRCs are in India. The estimation comprises of eight days of field protocol in all forest areas, followed by phase IV monitoring using camera traps. The 2014 tiger estimation figures in India suggested that there are nearly 2,200 tigers and only 60% of it are in tiger reserves. The remaining 40% of tigers are in forest areas outside tiger reserves.

A process named Conservation Assured Tiger Standards (written CA|TS) is in place to identify critical sites for securing tigers outside reserves. I am a reviewer for the sites registered for CA|TS accreditation in India. An international orientation programme for all concerned was held at Bogor, Indonesia, in October 2017, which was attended by delegates from India, Nepal, Russia, China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. As an independent reviewer, I was part of the Indian delegation. Delegates across the TRCs committed to take all measures to march towards the St Petersburg declaration.

We have 50 tiger reserves in India, on which $56 million is spent annually. There is hardly any funding for securing tigers in forests outside the reserve areas. Reversing floral and faunal regression to prevent species becoming red-listed and recovering the prey base for the tiger is the main focus in tiger reserves.

On the contrary, the recovery of habitat as well as prey outside tiger reserves does not receive attention, partly because of inadequate funding and partly because these areas are subjected to forestry work, such as commercial exploitation, thinning and extraction of plantations, etc. Thus, in a perverse reflection of the human condition in the country, one can call 60% of the tigers in the country "rich" tigers and the other 40%, which do not enjoy similar protection, "poor" tigers. Their habitats and prey have undergone degradation and corridors have been lost. It is these poor tigers who come in conflict with humans and are vulnerable to targeted killing, poaching, etc. We have seen many such cases in Bandipur and Nagarhole tiger reserves. In fact, two such cases came to light only recently.

Following the St Petersburg declaration in 2010, a stock-taking conference was organised by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in India in 2011. In 2012, a workshop was conducted in Hanoi, where most tiger countries were represented. Every nation committed to launch tiger recovery programmes in areas where tiger occupancy was consistently diminishing.

The IUCN format for ongoing Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) for Protected Areas (PAs) was reviewed by some international organisations, such as the World Wide Fund for nature (WWF) etc., working for conservation. Any site proposed to be conserving tigers can be tested with reference to this set of criteria.

The programme is named Conservation Assured Tiger Standards (CA|TS). The vertical bar before T signifies that a similar programme could be developed for other important species as well. The CA|TS programme comprises of seven pillars, 17 elements and 163 criteria. Any site where there is a viable tiger population can be registered as a CA|TS site. An independent reviewer examines the validity of the site with reference to the set of pillars, elements and criteria.

The seven pillars on the basis of which the site is examined are: importance and status of site, management issues, role of communities, tourism, protection, habitat management and tiger population. The number of elements to be examined against each pillar ranges from two to 12 while each element is examined under two to six criteria. Almost all Tiger Range Countries are onboard to register their sites for CA|TS accreditation.

The CA|TS process in each country is run through the National Committee/jurisdictional committee. India has already constituted a national committee under the chairmanship of the member secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority. Some other TRCs are still in the process of constituting the committees. At the international level, there is a CA|TS council, in which organisations involved in conservation are represented.

CA|TS assessments are first examined by the national committee and then peer-reviewed by an international executive committee and approved by CA|TS council. The process is nationally-owned and driven. At present, Mike Baltzer, working with WWF Singapore, is the chair of the International CA|TS. He is supported by 13 global tiger and Protected Area experts from different organisations. Khalid Pasha of WWF Singapore is the CA|TS manager, who processes the cases and provides all secretarial assistance to the CA|TS council.

The Indian national committee has decided to register territorial divisions dealing with tigers and related issues in consultation with the respective Chief Wildlife Wardens. The Global Tiger Forum has been asked to review the sites and prepare dossiers on them. They have also taken the leadership to urge all Tiger Range Countries to join the CA|TS process. After accreditation, the site can qualify to receive funding from international donors. The CA|TS council itself is not a donor agency.

Many sites across the TRCs have been registered but only three have received approval so far. These are the Sikhote-Alin Nature Reserve, Russia, Chitwan National Park, Nepal, and Lansdowne territorial division of Uttarakhand, India. Lansdowne is situated between two tiger reserves of Uttarakhand and is a critical site for securing tigers outside tiger reserves as well as for conserving the gene pool.

Thus far, sites in Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra have been registered. Karnataka should also register.

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

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