Monday, July 29, 2019

Status Report 2018: Increasing Tiger Population in India

Count - 2018 Year--- 2967 Tigers

After a grind of many years India finally experiences meaningful increase in its tiger population. This is heartening after a dismal status that could have been well below fourteen hundred at the start of Project Tiger Program in the seventies. The report is credible since more scientific approach has been resorted to using diverse techniques including the camera traps.

A larger area has been brought under the scanner unearthing small unheard populations of the carnivore. The major benefit of this exercise of counting tigers is unfolding of challenges in various or diverse landscapes. People conservation efforts which come naturally due to traditional beliefs, myths and ethos come to light thus converging pool of conservation practises along with emerging scientific management principles. This ends up enhancing conservation logic and create consensus that helps put it in practice  to save the tiger more effectively.  

Another factor that lends credibility to the report is lack of fudging that went on in the past with some FD exiting the management with a figure that was higher than before. This was farcical, and the population of the big cat in India was zooming well beyond its carrying capacity. This also showed the prerogative of the higher ups and how easy was it to fudge.

Like the balloon that bursts whence a small pin pricks, the truth came tumbling down after the debacle at Sariska and Panna National Parks two of the most prestigious tiger conservation units in India. 

From thirty plus tigers within a short period there were no tigers at all...all had been poached with extreme ease and comfort and that too with the connivance of some forest officials as the news papers reported. To counter the blame.. committees and inquiry commission all were setup more to whitewash  the shameful than to find the truth. In our country all horrific events eventually die down to be forgotten or to be sunk in ever delaying legal procedures and hordes of paper.  

Thankfully these events did not die down completely for it was the survival of one of the most charismatic species at stake, and India was at the forefront. But the most empowering factor was that India's prestige was at stake..the National Pride. The whole World looks at us as to what we are doing with our tigers.  

A comprehensive conservation model, ever evolving was needed in the country and thanks to concern and dedication we have been successful to a great extent in the cause. 

The debacle that happened at Sariska and Panna made it evident that India at that stage was ill prepared to save the vanishing species ...the critically endangered tiger. 

The initiation of Project Tiger following the Wildlife Protection Act and the creation of Protected Areas with inviolate core lulled the management with complacency bolstered beyond reasoning by yearly fudging thus falsely increasing tiger numbers albeit only on paper year by year. 

Lets be honest fudging did not take place everywhere, the bloated figures were also due to age old methodology of counting the big cats. Many tiger reserve were in a nascent stage at that time and the conservation efforts then were lacking perhaps due to inexperience or lack of funds.        

Lets us say that tiger conservation in those days was in infancy which was very true for the predator needed macro solutions and not much biological insights for its survival but the answers or solutions were not there at that time and if they did unfold the process was painstakingly slow. 

In the midst of the conservation efforts were some of our finest wildlife managers, and the dedicated staff in the reserves. International assistance also aided the conservation efforts. Institutes like WWF for Nature, WWI Dehradun and plethora of National and local conservation bodies now play an immense role in saving this beleaguered species.    

Space is a constraining factor with human population bursting beyond the seam and dire economic challenge, an increasing tiger population is not an assurance of the animals survival a Damocles Sword will always hang on the predators head. 

Numbers though comforting and the increase much needed, survival of the tiger would always depend upon many factors and those constantly emerging...political will and conservation efforts being of utmost importance. 

Population dynamics in relation to the environment, humans and our attitude and policies will always be in state of flux with population increase. The changing landscape and the encompassing environment will throw many new challenges and problems for saving the big cat. Are we prepared and well focused?  Are we proactive enough?     

All that we do as a Nation, as a society and even as individuals will have an impact on the survival quotient of the tiger.      

Tiger Status Report 2018

Uday works as a naturalist in India and writes on tigers and their conservation.

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Embattled Tiger

She was beaten to death?



Was she intruding into human settlements, did she injure or kill humans? Or are we intruding into her land? The latter is not probable but the truth - an axiomatic truth without doubt. 

In the parliament,  or at hustings whence serious issues are being battled environment is not a issue at all...or may be but at an insignificant level. Paying a lip service to conservation of wildlife and saving the environment is a sure shot act of evasion from being ostracized by the club of those who are aware and the unrelenting media.  

Except the headlines, I did not bother to read the story. 

This is a story that is happening almost now and then, and may continue till the big cats are alive in the wilderness in India. 

Undoubtedly the tiger is the World's most persecuted land based carnivore. Extensive hunting, poaching, traditional medicines, cosmetics, toiletries, man animal conflicts, prey base reduction, and now habitat takeover and destruction at the speed of light. Not that these things did not happen before. They did! And that is why this big cat is in a precarious state almost on verge of extinction where ever it now survives. At most of the places on Earth at its former range, it has been exterminated, mercilessly killed as vermin or kicked out of its home. The dastardly acts continue.... 

On the Tiger Day the newly collated census will be announced, the increased numbers will be touted as enhanced conservation but unfortunately the efforts are mired in greater number of problems the carnivore is facing than that being highlighted. The epiphany will never point to the population crossing the threshold of imminent possibility of extinction in India. Because tiger conservation has to be comprehensive in tackling the convergence of wide scale issues and conflicts that are threatening the species in this country.   

Ours is such a human centric society and greedy as well that we will continue to exterminate other life forms especially those that take on cudgels with us like the predators...

We also consume wildlife as food and medicine which is putting under stress populations of many beleaguered life forms especially the aquatic species. This too continues and involved in these illogical farming are some of the most rational countries. TCM is a big scourge and the big cat is the biggest sufferer.  But we have to be aware that the feline parts are in demand in India as medicine and talisman as well but it is much less. People are fond of tiger nails as well which is a threat to the survival of this species...poachers are encouraged due to demand of these parts. All of us should let go off this malady with immediate effect.     

In India though great efforts are being made to save the tiger - which also include that of some NGOs. The efforts has been thwarted on regular basis by policy conflict with emphasis on rapid development and economic pursuits that hinder a rational approach due to these exigencies. Nefarious elements are always a threat to wildlife in any country.  

Enamoured as we are with this modern structural empowerment all around us which enable utilization of all modern amenities at our door step at press of a button making natural habitats and environment concerns deep secondary and extremely vulnerable. 

Those at the helm have to sit down and concur how best we can develop without damaging nature and neglecting environmental concerns. 

The tiger is to blame for attack on humans a species sacrosanct, and the supreme masters of this Earth. That humans are encroaching on its land is of least concern and hardly discussed whence an event like man killing or lynching of the tiger occurs. 

We are devouring land like we should not, but who cares townships, highways and factories are an essential components of our society. To protest could result is repercussion of the worst kind. Even though it is apparent that man made leaps on Earth cannot be prevented yet we can mitigate the harm we are causing to nature and its vital components that which can save the tiger for eternity.  

We have moved forward far from treating wild animals as vermin we actually conserve we? Killing tigers and other wild forms as a remedy for safety of humans is not conservation. Do we dwell deep into the contingency that prevails in our society. Have we found answer to sporadic poaching, forced incursions into human habitations, to electrocution of animals, habitat destruction which is shamefully reoccurring, or wood logging going unnoticed at many places in India? 

Are we serious about tiger conservation or.....? 

We are a savage civilization but do not appear so, morphed perhaps by modern appendages and a mannerism which is broad scale deceptive. We know very well that we are dependant upon the offerings of nature and the equilibrium in the Earthly environment...and yet we choose to neglect the vital components like the tiger that nature is desperately trying to retain. 

Nature is a chain of things indelibly linked to each other, a fragile web which is giving away, thanks to our rabid a result, the global warming related climate change is taking place. What about extreme water shortages at many places? Are we concerned? Need we pay a greater price. We will because we are refusing to mend our ways.   

Uday is a naturalist and writes on tiger conservation and the environment:

Friday, July 19, 2019

Of Tourists & Tourism in Our Tiger Reserves

Kanha National Park sets a fine example of how to manage tourism in the core area.

This sentence above is enough to get the gist of the article to follow. I am pro well regulated tourism and this article is pro tourism. Those who disagree should read more carefully. 

Thankfully destructive hunting days are over, and a better alternative tiger tourism has taken over. I am unabashedly using the phrase tiger tourism albeit a holistic approach depends upon how the industry presents a visit to the reserve and of course our own attitude. Tour operators and hoteliers should present safaris as holistic comprising of many aspects of the reserves. They should not guarantee tiger sightings at all, and promise a more fruitful and wholesome experience.  

Swamp Deer

Singular obsession for sighting tigers should not be there but it will remain, for some species attraction is natural and fascination with a specific animal or bird is quite obvious. Ironically many of the initiated follow the path of tiger obsession including some of the senior officers, VIPs, other privileged souls  with interest in photography and with all the prerogative in their control. 

This singular obsession with our National Animal is natural, thanks to the status that has been created in the past. That it is at the top of the food chain and an apex predator naturally incurs lot of interest among the visitors. It is not only the morphological attraction, the historical pathway that has reduced footprints of this magnificent beast making it rare and endangered. And hence an object of desire.


The animal's own charismatic/behavioral appeal is responsible for obsession with the carnivore. For some association with Hindu religious identities or myths is the reason for attraction though much less a reason as compared with others. The animal is part of many myths and stories and has inspired many writers too. Kipling Stands out! Globally there is a desire to see this animal at least once in a lifetime. What is wrong?   

I have read articles by the erudite that lament the fact that the tiger cannot vote! This is a simple summation of its standing in our country and elsewhere. 

Jeep Safari
Why cannot people see the tiger and admire it in its natural surrounding? 

Those who advocate ban on tourism or limit it to impractical means do have a right to express opinion but the positives far outweighs the negative.  

Does not tourism and the popularity of the carnivore create an equity that which we understand and the politician certainly do?. 

Without tourist (read public) appeal the status of animal would not have been a big botheration for those who consider it as a speck on the horizon. There are many at the helm who consider conservation as an irritant...I hope you get the point. 

With ubiquitous warming and subsequent climate change the environmental concerns should be an imperative which those at helm should be well aware of. To make matters worse global ecosystems are being ravaged on massive scale ....and tourism has nothing to do with this at least in India.  

It is the importance/obsession or fondness for the animal among the common man that propels the administration and our policy makers into sincere action. The vote bank should lend a voice for better conservation practises and a concern for our wilderness. To negate public pressure in this country is like acceptance of incompetence and negligence with gusto. 

Public pressure matters and will continue to matter. The dreadful remedy that thwarts the rise of public concern is to curtain all that is happening by barring public access like in the totalitarian states, and in this case thwarting sustainable tourism. In our country a closeted approach is often followed as regards the management of things. 

Pertaining to my first sentence tourism is conducted as per rules and regulations at Kanha National Park. This I have been observing since more than two decades. My first visit to the park was probably in the year 1972 or maybe earlier. 

At few of the tiger reserves which I will not name since my visitations have been limited there, the safaris are horribly managed and atrocious attitude follows - there is literary a free for all. This is why tiger tourism is looked down upon but this does not stand true for all reserves.      

Setting A New Tourism Paradigm

We as public have to understand that we must cooperate with authorities and strictly follow rules and regulations of the reserves. Singular obsession with the big cat does not deliver much, a holistic approach will really be interesting and will create greater awareness.  

The reserves have so much to offer so indulge in birding as well as in mega fauna, take interest in the microcosm that prevails in these biodiversity hub. Enjoy every aspect of the reserve, follow the guide and the naturalist. All creatures big and small are beautiful and worthy of admiration hence make your safari holistic. 

Do not encourage to break the rules in your haste to see the tiger or other mega fauna. This is a problem in some reserves. 

Stay at responsible resorts which follow the green principles. Those that do not or have encroached should be shunned. Overall keep your carbon footprints small by avoiding materialistic or things of luxury during your stay. Remember sustainability counts use water carefully, do not use material which are not biodegradable, do not waste food and consume less fossil fuels and rely on alternative energy.  

Tiger perhaps will come out of the endangered status one day and we will continue to have an opportunity to look at nature's amazing creation along with other creatures in their habitats. 

Let us be wise and restrained!
Uday works as a naturalist and loves to blog on conservation and emvironmental issues. 

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Tiger Conservation: Elephant Migration in Central India

Mystery Migration Indian Elephants

Elephants have been recorded in Central India or Madhya Pradesh historically and evidence in form of craftsmanship (Artifacts) is suggestive of their presence rather strongly well back in time. Though no earlier in sightings have been recorded in MP except incrusions in Surguja District now a part of neighboring Chhattisgarh State, a very recent surprise incursion has taken place into the dense confines of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve a part of Central India. Recent news is suggestive of their movement into Kanha National Park as well some 200 km from Bandhavgarh.    

Wild Elephants

The reason for migration would be competition among the herds and or search for new pastures. These mammals have an indelible memory bank and finding erstwhile routes is not difficult. Their instincts could also have lead them here. Already two calves have been born at Bandhavgarh.   

Understanding The Ecology & Impact

Elephants are mega herbivores  and consume more than 100 species of plant matter including tree barks, leaves and soft branches. In general they are grazers and browsers and food selection is due to abundance and season. In one day an adult may consume about 150 kgs of  plant material including tall grass. 

Now wild elephants arrival to Central Indian Forests is good news but their is a catch. If these pachyderms have found back their erstwhile home their arrival though not marked with pessimism  will be a matter of some serious study. Their arrival has to be seen with a bit of caution. 

The reason for this circumspect approach is due to shrunken ecosystem that now prevails in the present as compared with the past whence there was no shortage of forest cover. In these times competition for fodder would be serious in areas with robust prey base.

The pachyderms are rapacious feeders and consume almost hundred and fifty kilo grams of food comprising of plant matter, bamboo and grass. Though the number of migrants is small compared to the area, the increase in population and further migration could add to immense biotic pressure and pose a severe threat to herbivores which cannot compete with these large mammals.     

In time to come animals like Swamp Deer, and spotted deer would face severe pressure the former being a total graminivore. Pressure would also be upon the bison or gaur. These animals constitute main prey base of the tiger. Hence the tiger breeding will be reduced for there is a co-relation between availability of food and procreation among the carnivores. During the summers there will be increased competition for scarce water as well.

All this may not happen immediately but will certainly happen in the future. It is up to the field biologists to make an extensive study and come to the right conclusion. All factors have to be taken into account and carefully calibrated.   

It is too early to predict the outcome since the pachyderms may prefer to stay in an area where they may not create competition or they may migrate or make local migration reducing the area of impact.. If they begin the migration process with a period spent here they may not cause pressure enough to create competition. 

With massive clearance of forests the paradigm has changed and long term impact will have to be taken into account. In areas already sustaining large populations of elephants the plant matter consumed without exhausting the ecosystem may not be present in the tiger reserves of  Central India.

Uday works as a naturalist and blogs on conservation in India.