The tiger population in India has increased by 30% since 2010 and the government has earned considerable compliments for this breakthrough.
India is home to 70% of the world’s tiger population. On January 20, 2014, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar presented the findings from the latest tiger census. Accordingly, India’s tiger population had risen from 1,706 in 2011 to 2,226 in 2014.
“This increase in tiger population is a testimony of the success of various measures adopted by the government,” said Javadekar in a statement. “These measures relate to Special Tiger Protection Force, Special Programme for Orphan Tiger cubs, efforts to control poaching and initiatives to minimize human-animal conflict and encroachment.”
Protecting India’s tiger population
India launched its Project Tiger program in 1976 as a response to concerns about the declining tiger population. Experts even warned the government of possible extinction if it fails to act and intervene.
Project Tiger is a comprehensive solution. The government aims to conserve the natural habitat of tigers and eliminate poaching. Data from the Minister of Environment and Forests revealed that from nine tiger reserves in 1970s, India now has 39 tiger reserves.
In addition, the government has also relocated and resettled people that once resided inside tiger reserves. These people were initially involved in tiger activities as part of their community traditions. The Project Tiger program, nonetheless, has provided these people with several livelihood means including ecotourism jobs and reserve patrolling.
The year 2006 marked another milestone in conserving and protecting tigers. India amended the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. This amendment created the National Tiger Conservation Authority and the Tiger and Other Endangered Species Crime Control Bureau, thus providing a legal framework for improving tiger population and policing wildlife resource.
Collaboration with the international community is also a critical part of the overall conservation and protection efforts. Currently, India has a Memorandum of Understanding with Nepal on controlling illegal cross-boundary trade. The government also has an established protocol on tiger conservation with China and is currently working on a bilateral protocol with Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Myanmar.
India is also a participant of the Global Tiger Forum of Tiger Range Countries—a venue for addressing international issues relating to tiger conservation. The government is also willing to donate tiger cubs in the international community and provide assistance in developing or improving tiger conservation plans.
Challenges in India’s efforts
Although the efforts and initiatives of India to protect and improve its tiger population are undeniably remarkable, there are pressing challenges that can thwart these off.
Poaching remains extensive according to the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI). Its data revealed that among the reported 274 tiger deaths between 2011 and 2014, 110 of which were due to poaching.
“The illicit demand for bones from wild tigers for use in traditional oriental medicine, coupled with the international trade in tiger skins, continues to be the main reason for the unrelenting poaching pressure on tigers in India,” said WPSI in a statement. “There is virtually no demand for either bones or skins of tigers within India.”
While there is a strong political will to protect and improve India’s tiger population, the economic initiatives of Prime Minster Narendra Modi are also fast becoming threats.
The National Democratic Alliance government has been removing hurdles aimed at moderating infrastructure projects. This means exempting construction and township initiatives from environmental clearance. Furthermore, the Environment Ministry has exempted coalmines with a production capacity of less than 16 million tons a year from public hearing should they plan to expand their operations.
There are several reports indicating different measures aimed at improving economic growth by compromising environmental safeguards. These ongoing developments in the country are counterproductive and contradicting to the established and ongoing efforts to protect and improve India’s tiger population.