Roar for Tigers

2013 : A grim year for our National animals

2013 : A grim year for our National animals

Jan 18, 2014

This is good news that the long pending issue of Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko) for inclusion in the scheduled animal of the country has been solved with at least keeping the animal in the scheduled IV of the Wild Life Protection, Act-1972. Such initiative from the Government will surely help to protect and conserve such a beautiful and lovely but unattended reptile. Unluckily on the other hand, the numbers of wild life crimes have been multiplying day by day.

Some years back, smuggling and illegal trading of wildlife parts were on the third spot after the crime of drugs and weaponry. But since last year, it has become on the second largest crime after the drug lords. Amongst the victims, Tiger and Rhinoceros are most vulnerable. The country lost 63 Royal Bengal tigers (Panthera tigris tigris) from our soil during 2013. Globally tiger population is estimated at fewer than 2,500 individuals with a decreasing trend. The Bengal tiger is the most numerous of the tiger subspecies — with latest populations estimated at 1,706 in India, 198 in Bangladesh, 155 in Nepal and 67–81 in Bhutan. IUCN classified Tiger as an Endangered Species under Appendix-I and is included in the scheduled I under the Wild Life Protection, Act-1972.

The first tiger death of the year was reported from Maharashtra on the 6th January 2013 from poaching and the last tiger death was from Mysore Forest Division on the 28th December, 2013 and the cause of the death is yet to be ascertained. As per the latest data released by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the majority of the tiger deaths in the country are due to the poaching. Out of the total 63 tiger deaths during 2013, 48 cases have been confirmed either from poaching or suspected poaching. Old age as the cause of death was reported from two cases – one at Similipal Tiger Reserved in Orissa and another at Kharangana in Maharashtra. Two tigers were killed by poisoning – one at Kaziranga in Assam and another at Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh.

One tiger which was confirmed as the man-eater was shot death by the forest officials during January, 2013. In another instance, a tiger cub was killed and partly eaten by an adult male tiger in Panna Tiger Reserve. Another tiger cub was also reported to have been died while falling off a high cliff in Ramnar Forest Division in Uttar Pradesh on the 8th March, 2013.

A tiger was hit and killed by a running train injuring another at the Chandrapur Forest of Maharashtra during the April, 2013. On summing the overall reports from the NTCA, the highest number of wild tiger death were reported from Karnataka numbering to sixteen followed by Maharashtra with nine. From Assam and Uttarakhand, eight deaths each were reported. Out of the 16 wild tiger death in Karnataka, five each were reported from the Bandipur Tiger Reserve and the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve. Five wild tiger death were reported from Kerala during the year and four of them occurred at the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. In Tamil Nadu, only one wild tiger death was reported from Nilgiri south Forest on the 11th March, 2013. Thus a challenge is offing on to our National animal.

A Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) in the wild in Ranthambhore National Park, Rajasthan, Indiay

A Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) in the wild in Ranthambhore National Park, Rajasthan, India
Pix – Bjorn Christian Torrissen / Wikipedia


Why so much challenges and threats

Habitat losses and the extremely large-scale incidences of poaching are the serious threats to the species’ survival. The extent of area occupied by tigers is estimated at less than 1,184,911 sq. km, a 41% decline from the area estimated in the mid-1990s. None of the Tiger Conservation Landscapes within the Bengal’s tiger range are large enough to support an effective population size of 25.

A 2007 report by UNESCO, “Case Studies on Climate Change and World Heritage” has stated that an anthropogenic 45-cm rise in sea level, likely by the end of the 21st century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, combined with other forms of anthropogenic stress on the Sundarbans, could lead to the destruction of 75% of the mangroves forests thereby affecting the maximum tiger population of the Delta.

The Forest Rights Act passed by the Indian government in 2006 grants some of India’s most impoverished communities the right to own and live in the forests, which likely brings them into conflict with wildlife and under-resourced population. In the past, evidence showed that humans and tigers cannot co-exist.

The most significant immediate threat to the existence of wild tiger populations is the illegal trade in poached skins and body parts between India, Nepal and China. It is reported that a fully grown tiger skin cost about Rs. 25 lakhs in international market. The governments of these countries have failed to implement adequate enforcement response, and wildlife crime remained a low priority in terms of political commitment and investment for years. There are well-organised gangs of professional poachers, who move from place to place and set up camp in vulnerable areas.

Skins are rough-cured in the field and handed over to dealers, who send them for further treatment to Indian tanning centres. Buyers choose the skins from dealers or tanneries and smuggle them through a complex interlinking network to markets outside India, mainly in China. In this regard, Manipur being in the boarder state with Myanmar is in a strategic route for wildlife crime. The illicit demand for bones and body parts from wild tigers for use in Traditional Chinese medicine is another reason for the unrelenting poaching pressure on tigers on the Indian subcontinent. For at least a thousand years, tiger bones have been an ingredient in traditional medicines that are prescribed as a muscle strengthener and treatment for rheumatism and body pain.

Other factors contributing to their loss are urbanization and revenge killing. Farmers blame tigers for killing cattle and shoot them. Their skins and body parts may however become a part of the illegal trade. The Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) investigates and verifies any seizure of tiger parts and unnatural tiger deaths that are brought to their notice. Between 1994 and 2009, WPSI has documented 893 cases of tigers killed in India, which is just a fraction of the actual poaching and trade in tiger parts during those years.

In 2006, Sariska Tiger Reserve lost all of its 26 tigers, mostly to poaching and in 2009; Panna Tiger Reserve also lost its remaining 24 National animals. One of the main problems for Panna tiger reserve is the diamond mining of the area by the National Mining Development Cooperation. The Diamond reserves of the area are estimated about 12 lakh carats and the quality is claimed to be the second best in the world after the South African diamond.

Conservation efforts of the country

The Project Tiger initiative was launched in India, on the 1st April 1973. It has been one of the most successful ventures in recent times to protect the striped predator. But the case history Sariska in Rajasthan and Panna in M.P. can never be ignored. The tiger population decline has resumed in recent years; India’s tiger population decreased from 3,642 in the 1990s to just over 1,411 in 2006. Since then, the Indian government has undertaken several steps to reduce the destruction of the Bengal tiger’s natural habitat in India. The main achievements of this project are excellent recovery of the habitat and consequent increase in the tiger population in the reserve areas, from a mere 268 in 9 reserves in 1972 to 1576 in 27 reserves in 2003.

But as on June 2009, there are 37 Tiger Reserves spread across 17 Indian States. In January 2008, the Government of India launched a dedicated anti-poaching force composed of experts from Indian police, forest officials and various other environmental agencies. The Ranthambore National Park is often cited as a major success by Indian officials against poaching. For the first time in several years, the tiger population in India is claimed to be increased in 2011. The Wildlife Institute of India estimates showed that tiger numbers had fallen in Madhya Pradesh by 61%, Maharashtra by 57%, and Rajasthan by 40%.

Vision for the Future

The mandate for Project tiger is to conserve tigers in a holistic manner. We should not forget that while conserving the tiger, we are conserving the whole eco-system of the area. At present the dynamics of forest management and wildlife conservation have been distorted due to need for income, lack of manpower, lack of awareness, lack of land use policy and population pressure. Since the traditional land use systems of people are neither static nor benign, these should not be overlooked. A regional development approach in landscapes having Tiger Reserves is of utmost importance in our country. It should be viewed as a mosaic of different land use patterns, viz, tiger conservation / preservation, forestry, sustainable use and development, besides socio-economic growth.

Tiger habitats exist in environments of thousands of indigenous communities which depend on them. Therefore we cannot view these protected areas in isolation from the surrounding socio-economic realities and developmental priorities of the Government. This calls for a cross-sectoral and cross-disciplinary approach.

Tigers now need a “preservationist” approach. Regional planning is important around Tiger Reserves to foster ecological connectivity between protected areas through restorative inputs with integrated land use planning. The management plan of a Tiger Reserve, therefore, needs to be integrated in larger regional management plans. In Manipur also last year, a cattle was reported to have been killed by tiger in Tamenglong district.

It is good news that the State has been included in the global tiger map and has given a chance for the conservationist to take care of the stripped animal. Though, we have Wild Life Protection Act, 1972, unless the acceptance from all sections of the society that our national animal is in a tipping point, the point that it may go either way of survival or extinction, we will be too late for tomorrow to save this stripped animal, the king of jungle. Sacrificing 63 tigers in a year are too much for the humanity and also for other living beings.

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