Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tiger Lands of India

The subcontinent was full of tigers before 20th century. But expanding population and need for agricultural land decimated the big cat’s habitat. This was associated with large scale hunting in India. There was a drastic fall in the tiger population by the seventies. The Project Tiger initiated to conserve the endangered species achieved success albeit for a short time.  The scheme controls barely 2 /3 percent of the country’s forest habitats – protected areas.  

The tiger population is precariously low around 1400 cats survive. This number is also suggestive of large scale plundering of tiger habitats in India which still continues.  Both habitat destruction and hunting has contributed to the sad plight of the tigers in India.  The former has been more damaging since large tracts of forest have been denuded in the country and it continues.

India is in a state of quandary since the leaders perceive large scale industrialization as solution for economic development and prosperity for the poverty ridden masses. Habitat conservation and industrialization are an antithesis and intrusion in pristine lands is deadly. The rabid industrialization augurs environmental hazards by reducing the green cover and emission of poisonous waste harmful gases and chemicals. Raw material required is often mined which directly affect our ecosystems. Mining in the country has been a scourge with absolutely no control exhibited by the state governments or the administrative bodies - court reprimand notwithstanding.   

There are no efforts or ingenuity to go in for green industrialization the cottage industries are an apt answer to it. In eco sensitive zones the development should take places by empowering the local with indigenous skill set. Hence a stable earning source would emerge. Handicraft industry is one such example, eco tourism is another. Proper harnessing and utilization of minor forest produce is much less damaging than perceived. Assistance in marketing is a prerequisite in order to sustain the efforts.  

Agriculture is another malicious factor that has reduced our forests and grasslands to naught. Most of the agricultural practices in and around tiger reserves are inefficient and non productive. The land comprises of gravels and by all means is infertile, there may be exceptions but the land owners are very poor. The dependence of large herds of livestock especially cattle is another menace. Since we cannot utilize beef for food in India the holding population of old animals is unfeasible and puts further pressure on the ecosystem. (I am not advocating beef consumption). 

The livestock also endangers rare species because of disease transmission. The proximity to the forests is one reason for man animal conflict in which the latter is the looser. In Corbett where man eating is taking place often, the villages are situated right in the dense pockets. Hence the clash is inevitable with large scale intrusion taking place every day.        

Most of the tiger reserves are now pockets of survival isolated islands of natural habitats for prime species.  Creation of corridors seems unfeasible in absence of strong political will. The greatest fear is of inbreeding and some instances have been recorded as in Bandhavgarh.

In most of the tiger reserves administration can be defined as lackadaisical absolutely non committal in approach to save the wilderness and its inhabitants. Panna and Sariska are live examples and there may be many with shoddier performance that has gone unnoticed. The ill equipped machinery makes the parks more susceptible to wood logging and poaching. Corruption it seems is becoming a salient feature and it affects our tiger lands as well.

Counting of tigers may be a prerequisite in order to take assessment of the situation. Counting trees literally is as important since habitat must improve and increase in order to sustain the big cats and other endangered species.