International Big Cat Alliance

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    In News

    • India has recently proposed to launch global alliance for big cats with an investment of $100 million

    About

    • The proposed alliance will provide assured support over five years with guaranteed funding of over Rs 800 crore.
    • The group will work towards the protection of the seven big cats — tiger, lion, leopard, snow leopard, puma, jaguar and cheetah.
    • Membership to the alliance will be open to 97 “range” countries, which contain the natural habitat of these big cats, as well as other interested nations, international organisations, etc.

    Activities and Governance of the IBCA

    • The IBCA will engage in advocacy, partnership, knowledge e-portal, capacity building, eco-tourism, partnerships between expert groups and finance tapping.
    • The alliance will disseminate information on benchmarked practices, capacity building, resources repository, research and development, and awareness creation.
    • Its governance structure will comprise a General Assembly consisting of all member countries, a council of at least seven.
    • It will be limited to less than 15 member countries elected by the General Assembly for a term of 5 years, and a Secretariat.

    Criticism of the IBCA Proposal

    • Critics claim that India cannot afford to spend $100m for the 22 endangered species, and that building another platform without the political will to protect big cats will not help conservation.
    • Big cat biologists have raised apprehensions that several key landscapes and species recovery programs are languishing due to inadequate funding.
    • IBCA lacks the required political will to offer the vision required to overcome such limitations.
    • After the first five years, the IBCA is expected to sustain itself through membership fees, and contributions from bilateral and multilateral institutions and the private sector.

    Importance of Protecting big cats

    • Conservation of biodiversity: Big cats are apex predators and help to regulate the population of herbivores, which, in turn, helps to prevent overgrazing and maintain the health of the ecosystem.
    • Economic importance: Big cats, especially tigers, are a major tourist attraction in India and generate significant revenue for the country besides helps to support local communities and small businesses.
    • Cultural significance: Big cats have been a part of Indian culture and mythology for centuries and are revered as symbols of strength, power, and beauty.
    • Ecosystem services: They play a crucial role in maintaining the health of the ecosystem by regulating prey populations which in turn, helps to maintain the balance of the ecosystem and ensures the provision of ecosystem services such as pollination, pest control, and nutrient cycling.
    • Scientific value: Studying big cats in their natural habitat provides valuable insights into their behavior, ecology, and biology which can be used to develop effective conservation strategies and management plans.

    Challenges of protecting big cats

    • Habitat loss and fragmentation: As human populations and infrastructure expand, the natural habitats of big cats are increasingly being destroyed or fragmented, leading to a loss of prey.
    • Poaching and illegal trade: Poaching and illegal trade of big cat parts and derivatives for traditional medicine and luxury goods remain a significant threat to their survival.
    • Human-wildlife conflict: As human populations continue to expand, the chances of conflicts between people and big cats increase leading to retaliatory killings of big cats by local communities.
    • Climate change: It is causing changes in the natural habitats of big cats, affecting prey availability, and increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events disrupting the delicate balance of the ecosystem and further threatening the survival of big cats.
    • Lack of political will: Despite significant efforts to protect big cats in India, there is often a lack of political will to implement and enforce conservation policies thus effectively undermining the conservation efforts and make it challenging to achieve sustainable outcomes.

    Important steps taken by Government to protect big cats

    • Project Tiger: It is the flagship program of the Indian government for tiger conservation launched in 1973 to protect tigers and their habitats by creating protected areas, improving law enforcement, and involving local communities in conservation efforts.
    • National Tiger Conservation Authority: This is a statutory body established in 2005 to ensure the effective implementation of Project Tiger and other conservation programs.
      • It oversees the management of tiger reserves, provides technical support, and coordinates with other government agencies and stakeholders.
    • Wildlife Protection Act: This is a national law enacted in 1972 to protect wildlife in India by prohibiting hunting, poaching, and trade of wildlife and their derivatives.
      • The law also provides for the establishment of protected areas, including national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and biosphere reserves.
    • National Wildlife Action Plan: This is a comprehensive plan for wildlife conservation in India that outlines strategies and actions to protect and manage wildlife and their habitats.
      • The plan includes specific targets for big cat conservation, including the recovery of tiger populations and the establishment of new protected areas.
    • Eco-Development Programme: This program aims to involve local communities in conservation efforts by providing them with alternative livelihood opportunities and promoting sustainable resource use practices.
      • The program aims to reduce human-wildlife conflict and increase community participation in conservation efforts.
    • M-STrIPES: This is a mobile-based monitoring system developed by the Wildlife Conservation Trust for monitoring and managing tiger populations.
      • The system uses GPS and mobile technology to collect data on tiger movements and habitat use, which is then used to inform conservation decisions.

    Way ahead

    • Protecting big cats in India is a complex and challenging task that requires the cooperation of governments, local communities, and international organizations.
    • Addressing these challenges will require a concerted effort to develop and implement effective conservation policies and strategies while balancing the needs of wildlife and people.
    • Well planned strategy will go a long way in conservation, economics, culture, ecosystem services, and scientific research besides ensuring their survival and maintaining the ecological balance of the ecosystem.

    Source: IE