Friday, August 10, 2018

Future of Tigers in India

Some ten thousand years back tiger crossed into India from cold climes of Siberia. It possibly migrated via IndoChina and entered the country to spread around many dense forest and grassland habitats.  It faced little challenge since the prime predator preceding its arrival was the Asiatic Lion which incidentally had a different habitat preference. The leopard and other predators were no match for this magnificent beast.     

Tiger in Forest - Uday Patel

The predator spread far and wide in the subcontinent perhaps leaving a few States that did not contain the requisite habitat. The spread was gradual till the population came to more than hundred thousand animals. The big cat flourished as a tertiary carnivore and settled down in the prevailing ecosystems well. That it could breed and multiply with ease confirmed that it had a strong survival instinct.     

For thousands of years all went well but not in recent times of history. It faced greater challenge from humans as they multiplied and spread. But the conflict was not daunting as there was plenty of space for all the species then. 

Tiger Reserve - Teerath Singh

It was the unchecked human populations...ever expanding for more space and utilization of resources that put wildlife and their habitats under pressure including the tiger. Since the carnivore is an apex predator the impact was worse  in its case.

As human settlements increased and resource utilization became unmanageable the negative impact increased tremendously as well. The big cat began to lose its habitats, and the ecosystems were gradually destroyed one by one. In dire need of space humans began to invade habitats at a fast pace. 

Eventually the grasslands began to recede and so did the forests. In the period of contemporary history human populations in India grew at rapid pace resulting in unplanned acquisition of lands that were crucial for the tiger’s survival. Agriculture too expanded rapidly in the recent times sounding a death knell for the homes of the big cats. Large areas of forests and wide span of grasslands were taken over for human settlement and agriculture. Many species were lost and many are on the verge of extinction as a result.

After suffering decimation due to organized culling campaigns during the British Raj the remaining tiger populations were further being reduced drastically by modern day hunters with guns. But the conversion of habitats into agriculture had a major impact on the tiger populations in India especially during the post independence period.    

Modern Day Challenges 

Human population in the country continues to grow and continues to acquire land for agriculture or other purposes especially urbanisation. The new threat is from development as perceived by the planners. Much under pressure to create a robust World beating economy the fast expanding industrialization is threatening the very existence of remaining big cat habitats and other species  in the country.  Mining, encroachment and denudation of forests are slowly but surely suffocating the breath out of the big cats.     

It all depends upon what policies are shaped and executed. A lip service paid to conservation would be disastrous with habitats already decimated and surviving species on the verge of extinction. Conservation should be on the agenda of the governing bodies as well as the planners and executioners such that it evades threat from rabid industrialization that can take place. We should also reckon that public participation is the need of the hour.

Climate change is being augured by the use of fossil fuels as well as the decimation of natural lands. This poses a certain threat for the humans but it threatens the species survival as well.  Our rivers the only source of drinking water, fresh air and edible elements all are under severe threat.

Consumerism is posing a big threat to the environment. The frustrating plastic menace has come to note. The use of toxic chemicals like pesticides and toilteories are threatening the health of our environment and increasing the extinction risk of many life forms.    

Poaching is a threat that exists in various quarters where the big cats survive. Local poaching is very much there at some place while organized poaching has completely decimated populations in Panna and Sariska Tiger Reserves.

Demand for tiger parts in the Chinese system of medicine is proving to be an existential threat. This is correlated with taste for exotic wild species in the cuisine of many countries. Pet keeping as a hobby is an unethical practice that is tolerated by many countries.  Activities like these encourage and help flourish illegal wildlife trade. 

A large population in the country still considers wild species as inimical to human safety and interest. It is organized awareness campaigns and tourism that will perhaps mitigate these horrendous beliefs. If only the big cat could create an equity for itself which it does to some extent due to tourism. But is this enough? Many erudite conservationists regret that the tiger cannot vote. Seriously!  

The Future
It would be unjustified to say that ruling dispensation does not care for wilderness. It does and so did the past Governments. What is questioned is the degree of commitment over riding political expediences and hasty development practices.   

Conservation cannot be considered just as a deemed policy matter and ethical or moral obligation. A concrete  and sincere efforts has to be made from all quarters to preserve and populate other life forms including the tiger.

The creation of Project Tiger Program was a shot in the arm for the beleaguered specie. The numbers were precariously low whence this effort was launched. In spite of all the initial hurdles and organized poaching racket the tiger in recent times has gained ground.       

The creation of tiger reserves or inviolate protected areas (critical tiger habitats) accorded much wanted breathing and breeding space for the other life forms including the big cats. But the preservation of the protected area is subject to many challenges ironically whence there is a dire need to accord greater space and protection to the tigers in India. The biotic pressure on our natural lands threaten the  coexistence of other life forms hence the inviolate spaces should be zealously guarded.  

As per 2014 Census using new methodology the figure arrived at was 2226 a rise over the earlier estimates. The 2018 census is going to result in indicating the survival of more tigers in India. But is this enough? 
We have a long way to go....   

2014 Tiger Census

Uday works as a senior naturalist at Kanha National Park in India
He loves blog on conservation and related issues