To save tigers, we need more CA|TS

tiger

In 2010, Russian President Vladimir Putin organised a meeting of Heads of States of 13 Tiger Range Countries (TRCs) in St Petersburg, which resolved to double the tiger numbers in the wild by 2022. It was followed up with several actions that the TRCs took. According to landscape-wise estimation in TRCs, 70% of the world’s wild tigers are found in India, the rest in the other 12 TRCs — Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

A process named Conservator Assured|Tiger Standards (CA|TS) was established to check the suitability of any site for tiger occupancy. It brings together governments of TRCs, inter-governmental agencies, institutions, NGOs and site managers. The National Tiger Conservation Authority’s member-secretary (MS NTCA) is the chairman of the CA|TS national committee in India.

The site manager, in consultation with the state government, registers the site with the National Committee for CA|TS engagement. The site is assigned to an independent reviewer for assessment, who examines the site with reference to each of the 163 criteria under the CA|TS framework. There are six such reviewers in India, including this author.

The main criteria for the review are the quality of habitat and status of its degradation, encroachments on forest land, availability of trained staff and infrastructures, necessary equipment and vehicles, density of tigers, co-predators and prey animals and population trend, status of protection of forest and wildlife, law enforcement mechanism, legal aids in dealing with the offence cases, involvement of communities and stakeholders, tourism, etc.  

The reviewer’s report is examined in the National Committee. The successful cases are sent to the international committee for peer review. Thereafter, it is referred to the CA|TS Council, comprising of chairpersons of all National Committees, empowered to grant approval to the site. The CA|TS process has been in vogue for five years and so far, two territorial divisions, namely Lansdowne and Ramnagar in Uttarakhand (bordering Corbett Tiger Reserve) have been approved in India. In addition, Nepal and Russia have one approved site each.

India has 50 Tiger Reserves, spread over 72,749 sq km, where adequate funding is provided for village relocation and protection of tiger, co-predator, prey animals and habitats. Annually, Rs 350 crore is spent by the Centre alone for protection of these areas. Yet, the NTCA reveals that during the years 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19, there have been mortality of 121, 115 and 102 tigers, respectively, in the country.

Tigers are poached for their skin and body parts. Karnataka alone has seen 99 tiger deaths since 2012. Between 2010 and 2018, human-tiger conflicts have caused the death of 331 people. Human-tiger conflicts often take a very ugly shape and villagers tend to take the law into their hands, poison or shoot the tiger.

As per the All-India Tiger Estimation of 2014, nearly 60% of India’s 2,200 tigers have occupied the tiger reserves. The remaining 40% of tigers have established home ranges outside the reserves and are prone to conflict and poaching. We must make attempts to make these areas also secure. It is in this context that the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and West Bengal have registered important sites for the CA|TS process.

The highest number of human deaths in tiger-related conflict have been on the fringes of the Tadoba Tiger Reserve, Chandrapur district, Maharashtra. The Maharashtra government has registered Central Chanda and Brahmapuri forest divisions for the CA|TS process and adopted tiger-centric management.

Karnataka can also consider registering some territorial divisions on the fringes of Bandipur and Nagarahole Tiger Reserves for the CA|TS process. In Karnataka, 4,857 sq km of tiger reserve area is secure for tiger occupancy. An equal area must be made secure outside the reserves if the tiger population is to be doubled. 

At the May 8-9 meeting organised by the World Wildlife Fund in Bangkok, participants came from Bhutan, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Russia and Thailand for stock-taking. It was found that due to anthropogenic pressure, a viable population of tigers has been lost in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Further, the tiger population in Malaysia is also in crisis due to poaching and land-use changes.

Although India is doing better than other TRCs, more habitats are required to be made secure by stepping up protection, connecting with communities and making changes in management strategies. We have to register more sites for the occupancy of dispersing tigers under the CA|TS process and bring in tiger-centric management in such landscapes.

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

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