Tiger numbers roar ahead, raise hopes - GulfToday

Tiger numbers roar ahead, raise hopes

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Tigers in India

The population of tigers in India has increased 33 per cent from 2,226 in 2014 to 2,967 in 2018. File

The recent tiger census in India found tiger numbers at 2,967 — more than 30% in four years (2,226), raising hopes for the survival of the endangered species four years ago.

This means an increase of 741 tigers in the last four years because of the conservation initiatives taken by the Centre and state governments. Compared to 2006 when the scientific method of tiger counting began, the numbers doubled — from 1,411 in 2006 to 2,967 in 2018.

Calling this a “historic achievement,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said as he released the report, “We reaffirm our commitment towards protecting the tiger…Some 15 years ago, there was serious concern about the decline in the population of tigers. It was a big challenge for us but with determination, we have achieved our goals.”

After releasing the All India Tiger Estimation 2018, the Prime Minister pointed out that India had achieved the target of doubling the tiger population four years early ahead of 2022. According to the report the population of tigers in India has increased 33 per cent from 2,226 in 2014 to 2,967 in 2018.

Pointing out that with almost 3,000 tigers, India is today among the biggest and most secure habitats, he added, “Only tiger being alive won’t help. We have to intensify the steps related to tiger conservation and the speed of such initiatives must be intensified”.

The survey is conducted every four years, with the latest census using 26,000 camera traps that took almost 350,000 images across known tiger habitats, the environment minister, Prakash Javadekar, said.

The images were analysed using computer programmes to individually identify each creature. Wildlife and forestry officials also scoured 380,000 sq. km of terrain.

As tigers inhabit a wide variety of habitats — from mountains to mangrove swamps, tall grasslands, to dry and moist deciduous forests — the report divides tiger habitats into five major landscapes — Shivalik Gangetic plains, Central India and the Eastern Ghats, Western Ghats, North Eastern Hills and Brahmaputra Flood Plains and Sundarbans.

International experts in carnivore ecology were roped in by the National Tiger Conservation Authority and the advancements done for the 2018-19 tiger status assessment were shared with them too.

PM Narendra Modi asserted that the way ahead is “collectiveness” instead of “selectiveness.” He stressed on the need for a broad-based and holistic look that is essential for environmental conservation. It is possible to strike a healthy balance between development and environment. “In our policies, in our economics, we have to change the conversation about conservation,” he added.

Karnataka lost its pole position as India’s number one tiger state by a whisker. Madhya Pradesh saw the highest number of tigers at 526, closely followed by Karnataka at 524 with Uttarakhand at number 3 with 442 tigers.

The entire Western Ghats has 981 tigers with Tamil Nadu (264) and Kerala (190) contributing significantly. In fact, the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu, showed the highest increment in management since the last cycle for which the park was awarded.

The 33% rise in tiger numbers is the highest ever recorded between cycles which stood at 21% between 2006 and 2010 and 30% between 2010 and 2014. The rise in tiger numbers was in conformity with the average annual growth rate of tigers since, 2006.

The doubling of tiger number was achieved much before the target deadline on 2022 was fixed at the 2010 Tiger Summit at St Petersburg. India currently accounts for more than 75% of the global population of adult free ranging tigers. New areas that were colonised by tigers in 2018 constituted 257,092 km.

This analysis suggests that loss and gain of tiger occupancy was mostly from habitat pockets that support low-density populations. Such habitats with low-density tigers, though contributing minimally to overall tiger numbers, are crucial links for gene flow and maintaining connectivity between source populations. The poor and continuing decline in tiger status in the states of Chhattisgarh and Odisha is a matter of concern.

Despite a human population of 1.35 billion and having the fastest growing economy, India has not compromised on its conservation ethos. The Project Tiger, which was initiated in 1973 with nine tiger reserves (18,278 km), has now grown to cover 502 tiger reserves (72,749 km).

However, in order to maintain this position, our conservation plans must now focus more on tiger habitat and corridors. Tigers are predators and as their habitats dwindle due to human inroads into their territories, they will seek fresher pastures. This will lead to more human-animal conflicts.