On Democratizing Tiger Conservation
- The Wild Life (Protection) Act (WLPA), adopted 50 years ago by then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to halt the catastrophic fall of wildlife across the country, has been credited with much of the success of wildlife conservation in India.
- The tiger population in 2018-2019 was 2,967 tigers. Wildlife managers can celebrate the tiger population doubling by stating simply the figure of 1,400+ projected in 2006. However, looking back over the past 50 years of tiger conservation under Project Tiger, we can see that, while we have kept the population alive, the numbers do not represent a great success, despite political support, funding, and a solid legal framework.
- We need conservation frameworks that enable meaningful participation by local communities, people, scientists, non-governmental organizations, and enterprises.
Points to Ponder:
- India has a noteworthy conservation history, with huge carnivore populations such as tigers and leopards, the sole populations of Asiatic lions and larger one-horned rhinoceros, and the greatest population of Asian elephants.
- The Wild Life (Protection) Act (WLPA) was implemented 50 years ago by then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to halt the alarming fall of wildlife across the country, and it is credited with much of India’s accomplishments in wildlife conservation.
- The tiger population estimate provided on April 11, 2023, is based on the tigers photographed during the survey. The predicted population would be 25-30% higher than the previous 2018-2019 projection of 2,967 tigers, implying a 6% yearly growth rate.
- In science, the syndrome of shifting baselines is known as “conservation amnesia.” While we have maintained the tiger population, the numbers do not show significant success, despite political support, funding, and a robust legal framework.
- Many experts are relieved that Project Tiger was managed to preserve tiger populations in the majority of the geographical regions where they existed at the time of its commencement, but we are now losing tigers in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, the Eastern Ghats, and the Northeastern forests.
- The reintroduction of tigers from the forests of central India, where populations are prospering, is increasingly being employed to counteract this decline. However, this must be planned in such a way that as much genetic variation as possible is preserved.
- The tiger was regarded as an “umbrella species.” The tiger’s survival meant the survival of the entire ecosystem. However, in the absence of competent scientific oversight, the emphasis has remained on increasing tiger numbers rather than on their habitat and other species.
- Tiger populations are normally highest in habitats with a high abundance of prey. This has resulted in the “cheetalification” of tiger reserves, in which excessive water provisioning during the dry season has eliminated natural, climate-driven changes in wildlife populations.
- Conservation in India is entirely based on a network of Protected Areas (PAs), which is a one-of-a-kind conservation model plagued by a “sarkaar” complex. Ordinary Indians, particularly those who live close to wildlife and frequently suffer the price for it, have little say in conservation.
- The need for conservation decentralization in India is urgent. Conservation must shift from being solely the responsibility of the government to a more community-based, decentralized approach.
- The Government of India initiated Project Tiger in 1973 to safeguard the Bengal tiger population, which was in decline owing to killing and habitat destruction.
- The initiative began in nine tiger reserves spread across the country, totaling 16,339 square kilometers. Since then, the initiative has grown to include 53 tiger reserves spread over 18 states, totaling 75,796 square kilometers.
- Project Tiger’s main goals are to safeguard and conserve the Bengal tiger population, maintain their habitat, and reduce human-tiger conflicts.
- The initiative includes habitat management, protection of the tiger’s prey base, anti-poaching measures, and community participation in conservation activities.
- Project Tiger commemorated its 50th anniversary in 2022, with activities organized across the country to promote awareness about tiger conservation and recognize the project’s accomplishments.