Tiger Conservation

  • Saving the tiger

    PM must keep his pledge by Lt Gen (retd) Baljit Singh Because it is there'! That was the pithy response of George Mallory during a fund-raising lecture in Cambridge in 1924 when one in the audience asked: "Why climb the Everest?' Elaborating further on the interrogative "why' to our quest for preserving the Royal Bengal Tiger species in the wilderness in India, let us not forget that first and foremost the tiger is India's national animal. And therefore it is one of the icons of our nationhood. Now that the Government of India has conceded that we are left with less than 1,200 tigers, the question which begs the answer is: how shall we save the species from imminent extinction? Perhaps we can draw strength by recalling experiences from the last century where certain mammal and bird species were successfully provided a second lease of life, and draw lessions therefrom to mitigate the current tiger crisis facing us. We have the case when in 1903 the eight Asiatic lions in the Gir forest constituted the only surviving pride of lions in the entire world. It was a common practice in colonial India for the rulers of the princely states to host the Viceray over the Christmas week. So the Nawab of Junagadh conceived the idea of tempting Lord Curzon with what would virtually be the last hunt in Asia for a lion trophy. Making departure with protocol, Lord Curzon replied in person to the Nawab. He declined his gracious invitation, inveigled with him to ban lion hunting altogether and protect the Gir forests so that the Asiatic lion may survive to perpetuity. This provides us the finest example where the astute vision of the head of a Government coupled with an unwavering political will saved a mammal species from the very jaws of extinction. Lord Curzon's successors and the Nawabs of Junagadh kept up that resolve so that on India's Independence in 1947 there were about 62 Asiatic lions in the Gir. Today they number more than 300! Moving on to 1972 we arrive at the fateful year when the Arabian Oryx was declared extinct from the wild. And with that we come to the story where philanthropy of a handful petro-dollar rich princes of the UAE has aided the reintroduction of this speices. Starting in the 1980s, in zealously guarded and regularly patrolled selected areas on the Arabian peninsula, where about 800 captively bred Arabian Oryx were released in trickle now and then, a new lease of life was provided to this species. This is a beginning of what may be the only initiative in the reintroduction of a species after total extinction. One crucial factor of success was that in Saudi Arabia alone a mind-boggling 2200 sq miles area for reintroduction was totally fenced-in which, without philanthropy, is simply unthinkable. At this stage, it is essential for me to state emphatically that as of now, unfortunately, there has been very little success with reintroducing hand-reared or captively bred carnivore to the wild. George and Joy Adamson, who left India in the 1940s to settle in S. Africa, tried to release in the wild their hand-reared, orphaned lion cubs. These animals were either not canny enough or were wanting in physical vitality to stand up to their free-ranging members. The attempts failed to establish a precedence. In India, "Billy' Arjun Singh, now an octogenerian, attempted to hand-rear a female tiger cub born in and purchased from the London zoo, with the idea of ultimately releasing it in the Dudhwa tiger reserve. He fared better than the Adamsons in as much that Harriet did made with a free-ranging tiger, littered in the wild but brought the week-old cubs back, one by one to a room in Tiger Haven, Billy's home on the fringes of Dudhwa! The story beyond is marred in controversy whether Harriet and her progency perished through deliberately poisoned baits by the Forest Department or at the hands of poachers? A similar attempt by Billy with a leopard cub (Prince) also remained an inconclusive venture. Antagonists of the tiger conservation idea will be quick to point out that in Texas there as nearly 3,000 tigers (Royal Bengal and Sumatran species) living in captivity inside large enclosures on the ranches of the rich Americans. But this in no way can be a living gene pool for us to reintroduce them in our wilds for two basic imponderables. First, there are no reports yet of their having littered in capivity in Texas. If they do and by the time we hand-rear them in India, they may meet the same fate as Harriet's progeny. Worse, by then their natural prey base in India's wilds would have diminished forcing them to become cattle or man eaters. And the same disadvantage will be faced even if we were to purchase adults from this lot in Texas and reintroduce them after the extirpation of the species from its habitat. We must save en block the last 1,000-odd surviving tigers and their habitat and create conditions for the numbers to multiply to about 5,000 animals or else India and the world would lose the tiger species from the wild

  • BELLING THE BIG CAT (Editorial)

    The survival of the tiger has become a burning issue, one of serious concern because of the rapidly declining numbers, despite the special task force initiated by the prime minister. Alas, the force is headed by a non-tiger-expert. The annihilation of this majestic species is symbolic of the disappearance of the integrity, honesty and majesty of governance in India. As king of the forest, protector of the precise and carefully-spelt-out law of the jungle, the tiger represents the best in rulership and keeps the necessary balance in the food chain as well. We have managed, over the last few decades, to destroy this essential balance of life, and with that the destruction of values such as honesty, integrity, commitment and service, all of which are integral to good governance and inclusive administration. The tiger is the keeper of the law, and as it dies unceremoniously at the hands of defective policies, unthinking, short-term initiatives and an abject lack of understanding and expertise in wildlife preservation, India too contorts with the breakdown of law, drowning under the onslaught of a tsunami of corruption, malpractice, nepotism and anarchy that stems from inept governance, selfish political compromises and the government's continuing status quo in an attempt to live through a full term and remain in power at the cost of destroying the fundamentals. For a ruling coalition to succumb to a barrage of blackmail for three years from a weird partner, who remains outside of the accountability structure and who has been a traditional enemy, rationalizing negative interventions by describing them as imperatives of coalition politics, is no longer acceptable. To hold one billion people to ransom because of a personal need to survive in positions of power is equally inappropriate. Still carrying on Times have changed dramatically and past baggage must be discarded to make way for change, development and growth without the rhetoric of populism. Let's have real commitment and action in areas that have been neglected and rapaciously exploited by our political class for decades. When leaders do not stand by their values and beliefs, citizens reject them as weak and unfit to rule. When leaders buckle under pressure regularly, they are deemed ineffective and are gradually put aside as incompetent and incapable of good governance. Once the public dissects the posturing, the decline is not gentle but definitive. When there is a strong perception that the leader, the face of governance, is manipulated invisibly by some other force, people of a country sense the weakness and opt to vote for an alternative. The pretended innocence about the degradation around us shows up the ruling coalition. The explanations are packed with superficial half-truths that are signalled out to the public. What follows is an overwhelming disrespect for all that the government, and its once-upon-a-time sacrosanct institutions, have stood for and represented over 60 years. This truth is the saddest of all and Bharat is convulsing under this very dangerous reality. Are the various greedy mafia desperate only to serve their personal interests by poaching good, clean individuals and political practitioners, much like the illegal trapping and killing of the king of the many jungles of India? Illegal is the key word, one that has eaten into the foundations of our plural culture. These rapacious, anonymous white ants helped by worms and snakes, and by other scavengers, are thriving with the death of the protector of the law and the fine balance. As the sanctity of the last of our sacred groves is being brutally manhandled, so are the integrity and values of civil society in its finest and broadest definition. Who will bell the Big Cat?

  • PM reviews tiger conservation status

    Concerned over declining number of tigers, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today promised further enhancement of financial and organisational support to save the big cats in the country. At a meeting called to review tiger conservation status and functioning of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, he expressed concern over declining tiger population but added that recent estimates of tiger population could not be compared with earlier estimates. The Prime Minister said the government was fully committed to tiger conservation and that the Centre would further enhance financial and organisational support for efforts in this direction. Besides, he would also call a conference of chief ministers of states with tiger reserves to put in place a coordinated response to the challenge of tiger conservation. Based on a new methodology, the Centre recently released a report on the status of tigers titled "Status of Tigers, Co-predators and Prey in India'. The report pegged the tiger numbers at an all-time low of 1411, confirming the worst fears of tiger conservationists about the state of big cats in India. The report was prepared by Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India and the National Tiger Conservation Authority after two years of extensive data collection. However, some stakeholder states like Orissa rejected the new count, saying that the camera-trap methodology adopted to count the numbers was faulty. Ever since the release of the report, tiger conservationists demand that Centre should take emergency steps to save the national animal and that the Prime Minister should call a meeting of chief ministers of states with tiger reserves. Assuring that the government was fully committed to tiger conservation and the Central government would further enhance financial and organisational support for efforts in this direction, the Prime Minister today said the Centre would fund modernisation of tiger reserves management, including recruitment of staff from local population and providing them adequate equipment. He also sought a state-specific strategy for such central assistance. The government had recently approved an enhanced relocation package of up to Rs 10 lakh per family for families living in tiger reserves. Schemes for rehabilitation of traditional hunters, for supporting new tiger reserves; for supporting eco-tourism benefiting local communities; for deployment of anti-poaching staff and, for improving service conditions of forest officers had also been taken up. The Prime Minister stressed the importance of concerned state governments paying focused attention. He said the chief ministers had been asked to take personal charge of tiger conservation and forest management.

  • PM wants states to do their bit for tiger conservation

    In an effort to ensure improved tiger conservation, the Centre is planning to make states where sanctuaries and parks are located active partners in protecting the big cat by framing memorandums of understanding (MoUs) that will tie-in increased assistance to better management of the reserves. A review of tiger conservation chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday considered options to stem the decline in tiger population in the wake of the latest census released last week. It was felt that the cooperation of the states was essential for any conservation effort to succeed. The 30-odd tigers reserves are managed by forest services of 17 states. While a press release said that the PM expressed concern at the decline in tiger numbers, it also pointed out that Singh felt comparisons with older census figures would be out of place given that a revised methodology was used in the most recent count. It was also felt that tiger numbers had declined most in areas adjoining reserves which were not specifically protected. In order to get the states on board, it was decided that MoUs detailing their responsibilities as well as a scheme of incentives would be drawn up soon. These would be then signed with states with increased funds being linked to specific measures like requisite staff, communication and monitoring equipment and patrol vehicles. This would bring about a sharing of best practices in tiger conservation. A meeting of CMs of states where tiger reserves are located will be called and the CMs will be requested to take charge of conservation and forest management. The meeting will seek to frame a coordinated response to the challenge of tiger conservation. While the core areas of tiger reserves are to be kept inviolate

  • We need to make sure our grandchildren will be able to see the Indian tiger

    George B. Schaller is an award-winning conservationist and field biologist who has been working on conservation issues around the world since 1952. Here in India in the wake of the tiger census, Schaller

  • Disappearing cats

    The report of the latest tiger census, which shows the existence of no more than 1,411 wild cats, justifies the fear that tiger conservation efforts are not paying off. Indeed, the current tiger count is lower than the tiger population of 1,827 in 1972, when the Wildlife Protection Act was enacted to pave the way for the launch of Project Tiger, designed to conserve and propagate what was seen 36 years ago as a threatened species. Undeniably, Project Tiger did show good results initially, with the tiger head count rising to a handsome 3,000 by 1979, but it began flagging subsequently, leading to not only the negation of the initial gains but to the re-emergence of fears about the continued existence of tigers in the country's wild areas. The latest census is based on the globally adopted method of supplementing the pug-mark count with evidence collected through camera traps, remote sensing and various robust statistical tools. It has, consequently, made several revelations which are dismaying. For one, it has confirmed that the 2002 tiger count, which had put the number at a high of around 3,500, was a bogus exercise, meant chiefly to cover up lapses on the tiger conservation front and counter reports of widespread poaching activity. The bulk of the remaining tiger population is now confined to a few reserved sanctuaries, the notable among them being the Corbett Park in Uttaranchal, Nagarhole in Karnataka, Kanha and Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh, and Kaziranga in Assam. Most other tiger reserves have reported a sharp drop in tiger numbers. Some of the key ones among them are Ranthambore and Sariska in Rajasthan, Palamau in Jharkhand, Nagarjun Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh and Indravati in Chhattisgarh. But this needs to be viewed against the backdrop of the fact that, barring Ranthambore and Sariska, the other three poorly-performing habitats are hotspots of Naxal activity and the decline in the tiger population there could, therefore, be for reasons different from those prevailing in other wildlife habitats that have witnessed a slide. The lack of success in tiger conservation is attributable largely to complacency. This is reflected in the large number of posts of forest guards and rangers which have been lying vacant for years on end, as also in the paucity of the resources required for protecting reserve forests. Most of the forest officers who are in place do not have fast-moving vehicles, modern communication tools and weapons, all of which are required to counter the better-equipped poachers. That the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, set up last year to supervise the forests, has not yet become effectively operational is another indication of the apathy towards this task. Commonplace issues like re-location of human habitations from the wildlife sanctuaries and curbing other non-forestry activities there have also not been suitably addressed. In the absence of a suitable policy framework, even the fringe areas around the forests have not been able to serve as effective buffer zones. Under the given circumstances, it seems far better to concentrate resources and efforts on selected habitats that have tiger populations large enough for quicker breeding and propagation than spreading them thinly over wider tracts, as is being done today. Besides, the trade and, more importantly, the exporters of tiger parts need to be curbed effectively to take away the incentive for poaching on tigers.

  • 1411 and counting: INDIA'S last tigers and where they live

    Shivalik-Gangetic plains Among the most important tiger ranges with a high density of 297 tigers over 5,177 sp km. Uttarakhand has 178 tigers, UP 109, Bihar 10 Total: 297 Highlight: The only demographically viable population in Northwestern India. The Corbett tiger reserve alone has an estimated population of 164 tigers spread over 1,524 sq km. The tiger census suggests a buffer zone of 1,000 sq km for Corbett. The tiger has become locally extinct in 29 per cent of the region's districts Potential tiger habitat: 20,800 km Challenges:

  • Tiger deaths: Wildlife body protests, writes to PM

    The reasons for tiger deaths in the country are beginning to show.Members of the National Board for Wildlife, the apex conservation body chaired by the Prime Minister, wrote to him on Tuesday saying decisions approved by him, including the one on forming a sub-committee for the tiger, are not being followed and even minutes of meetings are not being properly recorded.

  • Tiger count (letter)

    This refers to the editorial "Counting real tigers' (Feb. 19). The news that the tiger population in India as a whole has been reduced to a paltry 1,411 is both shocking and surprising. Atrocities committed by mankind

  • Counting real tigers

    The first attempt at estimating India's tiger population using statistically valid techniques shows that the numbers of the big cat are depressingly low. The recently released report of the National Tiger Conservation Authority and Wildlife Institute of India, titled "Status of Tigers, Co-predators and Prey in India,' estimates that there are 1,411 tigers in six landscape complexes. These are the Shivalik-Gangetic Plains; the Central Indian Landscape Comp lex; the Eastern Ghats; the Western Ghats; the North-Eastern Hills and Brahmaputra Plains; and the Sunderbans.

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