Fifty years of ‘Project Tiger’

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    • Tiger Census figures were released by the Prime Minister at an event marking the “International Big Cat Alliance conference” as well as the “50th anniversary of Project Tiger”.
      • The PM also released the government’s vision for tiger conservation during ‘Amrit Kaal’, and launched the International Big Cats Alliance (IBCA).

    About

    • Tiger census highlights:
      • The number of tigers in India has increased by 6.74 percent from 2,967 in 2018 to 3,167 in 2022, according to the figures of the 5th cycle of India’s Tiger Census.
      • Estimation was done in five landscapes across the country.
      • Region wise:
        • The tiger population has grown the most in the Shivalik hills and Gangetic flood plains, followed by central India, the north eastern hills, the Brahmaputra flood plains, and the Sundarbans
        • There was a decline in the Western Ghats numbers, though “major populations” were said to be stable.
    • International Big Cats Alliance (IBCA):
      • IBCA will focus on the protection and conservation of seven major big cats of the world, including tiger, lion, leopard, snow leopard, puma, jaguar and cheetah, with membership of the range countries harbouring these species.

    How are the tiger numbers estimated?

    • The tiger numbers are estimated by adding animals caught in camera traps, as well as those that may not have been captured in this way
      • The latter are estimated by statistical techniques.
    • In their four-year estimates, the scientists provide a range of the estimated tiger population, and the mean value is highlighted as the latest tiger population.

    About Project Tiger 

    • Tiger population after independence:
      • India’s tiger population was rapidly dwindling post indpendence. 
      • According to reports, while there were 40,000 tigers in the country at the time of the Independence, they were soon reduced to below 2,000 by 1970 due to their widespread hunting and poaching.
    • Declining tiger population:
      • Concerns around the issue further intensified when the same year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature declared the tiger as an endangered species. 
      • Two years later, the Indian government conducted its own tiger census and found that there were only 1,800 of them left in the country.
    • Origin of ‘Project Tiger’:
      • To tackle the problem of hunting and poaching of not just tigers but also other animals and birds, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi promulgated the Wildlife Protection Act in 1972.
      • Project Tiger was launched by the Central government on April 1, 1973, in a bid to promote conservation of the tiger.
    • Project Tigher key aspects:
      • Notably, Project Tiger didn’t just focus on the conservation of the big cats. 
      • It also ensured the preservation of their natural habitat as tigers are at the top of the food chain. 
    • Rise in tiger population:
      • Soon after, the number of tigers in India began to rise and by the 1990s, their population was estimated to be around 3,000. 
      • Today, there are 54 tiger reserves across India, spanning 75,000 sq km. The current population of tigers in the country stands at 3,167 as opposed to 1,411 in 2006, 1,706 in 2010 and 2,226 in 2014.

    Threats

    • Tigers outside protected areas & possibility of conflict:
      • The current estimate also does not give numbers on the proportion of tigers outside protected areas, which are a growing number and a key marker of the environmental threats as well as man-animal conflicts. 
      • According to the reports, Tigers are increasing outside Tiger Reserves in the landscape (Shivalik hills and Gangetic plains), Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.
        • Cities in linear infrastructure projects in the congested corridor between western and eastern Rajaji (Haridwar & Dehradun) that have left the area ‘functionally extinct for large carnivores and elephant movement’.
      • The need is to invest in mitigating conflict with tigers and mega herbivores.
    • Threats to protected areas:
      • The authors of the census report warn that nearly all of the five major tiger-zones face challenges to the growth of the tiger population due to the increasing demands from infrastructure development.
    • Threats of Central Indian highlands and Eastern Ghats:
      • The wildlife habitats (Protected Areas and corridors) within the region of Central Indian highlands and Eastern Ghats face a range of threats, including habitat encroachment, illegal hunting of both tigers and their prey, conflicts between humans and wildlife, unregulated and illicit cattle grazing, excessive harvesting of non-timber forest produce, human induced forest fires, mining, and ever-expanding linear infrastructure
      • This region is also having several mines of important minerals, hence mitigation measures like lower mining impact techniques and rehabilitation of mining sites should be done on priority.
    • Health of the forests:
      • 400,000 square kilometers of forests in tiger states, only one-third are in relatively healthier condition according to the report. 

    Way ahead

    • Following the translocation of cheetahs from Africa, India is now looking at international initiatives to translocate tigers into other locations.
    • Experts have said that most of the country’s tigers are focussed within a handful of reserves which are fast approaching their peak carrying capacity, and unless new regions are developed as reserves, it may be a challenge to ensure further growth in numbers.

    Source: TH