A nice tiger, yesterday

View from India: Hunt for solutions to save the tiger

Image credit: Dreamstime

Project Tiger - India’s tiger conservation programme - turned 50 on 1 April. It was formally launched in 1973 by Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, from the Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand. The Project is among the world’s largest species conservation initiatives.

An ongoing scheme of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Project Tiger is India’s commitment towards saving the wildlife and restoring the population of tigers.

Tigers need to be protected. Not simply because they are majestic or have an arresting gaze, or that they are a photographer’s delight, or that they are a symbol of might and power. They are essential for maintaining the ecology of the entire forest-wetland ecosystem. If tigers became extinct, the forest ecosystem could be badly damaged. Forests are important water-catchment areas.

A dwindling tiger population could negatively impact trees and plant species. A concern for forest loss along with improper pollination, lack of temperature regulation and sparse rainfall led to the initiation of Project Tiger. Five decades of conservation has led to the increase in the tiger population from 1,800 in 1973 to nearly 3,000 today.

Project Tiger has also been converted into a statutory authority, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). Provisions have been enabled in the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972 through an amendment via the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act 2006. NTCA has indicated that Project Tiger is "to ensure maintenance of a viable population of tigers in India for scientific, economic, aesthetic, cultural and ecological values and to preserve for all times areas of biological importance as a national heritage for the benefit, education and enjoyment of the people".

Various efforts have rolled out at the national level, such as the establishment of tiger reserves that are administered by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). India is home to 53 Tiger Reserves, wherein Guru Ghasidas National Park is the 53rd on the list.

Tiger reserves have been established in India to prevent fragmentation of tiger habitats. These are large, biologically diverse landscapes that allow tigers to move about freely and naturally. Tigers are apex predators in the animal food chain. These big cats help check the herbivore animals. They provide a harmony between the prey animals and the forest vegetation.

The majestic striped cats roam around freely in forests, leaving behind distinctive pug marks whilst stealthily tracking their prey. The grassland could be a foyer for their movements. Tiger reserves could also be a channel for economic growth through community involvement. Households that live in the villages surrounding tiger reserves could thrive on it. Employment opportunities could be seen in the form of eco-tourism, wherein the local people can become guides and take tourists on tiger trails and wildlife safaris.

What of the next 50 years? How will the tigers fare? Could they face extinction? According to some reports, tigers may possibly come out of the labs - well, scientifically generated, at least. Hyderabad’s Nehru Zoological Park houses a ‘Frozen Zoo’. This is a genetic resource bank of wildlife. The lab also has the germ-plasm of male and female tigers, stored at very low temperatures. This could be an option for them to reproduce the beasts in case they face extinction. The Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species (La-CONES) has collaborated with the Nehru Zoological Park to undertake conservation for wildlife research. The Nehru Zoological Park could become one of the first frozen zoos in the world.

The NTCA status report reveals that India has become home to more than 70 per cent of the world’s tiger population. Key challenges include human-wildlife conflict, poaching and climate change. Some issues can be addressed by tracking and monitoring the tiger’s movements through cameras and sensors. Local communities could also be sensitised and educated to prevent tiger injuries or poaching. The jungle is also the tiger’s natural habitat, so deforestation should be curbed.

One last word: hunt for solutions to save the tiger.

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