TIGER: A SUCCESS STORY IN THE HIMALAYAS
The tigers of Himalayas defy the odds
From “Ek Tha Tiger” to “Tiger Zinda Hai” is a great success story for the big cat in the Himalayas mainly in India literally though the two films are spy thrillers. Tiger population has decreased by a staggering 95 percent the world over in the beginning of 20th century. Tigers have lost 90% of their natural habitat and their world population is about 5,000.
Tiger population started decreasing in the Himalayn countries including India from the British time and even before. Both the Sahebs and the Kings and Zamindars, big or small used to go for hunting (Sikar) in their forest areas. Killing tigers used to be like trophies and there used to be rewards rather than punishment. The local rulers used to keep their British masters happy by organising such orgies which was then known as hunting diplomacy. In Independent India with rising population and development projects tiger habitat was reduced.
This caused a fall in their prey population and consequent starvation deaths. In many cases tigers strayed into adjacent villages killing men and cattle. This caused villagers poisoning or trapping the big cat to death. Poaching for body parts is the biggest cause of fall in the tiger population. From whisker to tail all body parts fetch good prices in the market. Lately, use of each body part of tiger in traditional medicines in China and Southeast Asian countries with supposed vitality has led to increased poaching and more recently farming.
All these factors prompted the known tiger countries, mainly India to bounce back and save the big cat. As many as 13 tiger countries including India held a summit at Saint Petersburg city of Russia in November 2010 to promote a global system for protecting the natural habitats of the big cats, to raise public awareness and support for tiger conservation issues around the world. The Summit decided on the goal to increase the population of wild tigers to over 6,000 by 2022 –the next Chinese year of the tiger.
This was known as TX2 Goal to double the world’s tiger population in a fixed long term time frame. The thirteen tiger-range countries participating in the Summit were India, Bangladesh, Nepal,Bhutan, Myanmar, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Summit host Russia. The International Tiger Day is celebrated annually on July 29 to spread awareness about the need to protect tigers which are an endangered species.
By that time India was already implementing “Project Tiger”, is a tiger conservation programme during Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s reign. Tiger had replaced lions as the national animal of India, this project launched in April 1973 aims to stem the dwindling population of the big cats and work to increase their numbers.
The project aimed at ensuring a viable population of tigers in their natural habitats, protecting them from extinction, and preserving areas of biological importance as a natural heritage forever represented as close as possible the diversity of ecosystems across the distribution of tigers in the country. The project’s task force visualized these tiger reserves as breeding nuclei, from which surplus animals would migrate to adjacent forests. Funds and commitment were mustered to support the intensive program of habitat protection and ehabilitation under the project. The government had set up a Tiger Protection Force to combat poachers and funded relocation of villagers to minimize human- tiger conflicts.
As a result, project tiger and subsequent renewed efforts total tiger population in India now stands at about 3000 as compared to less than half (1,400) in 2014.As per estimates, India is home to 75% of the world tiger population. India’s Project Tiger was launched in 1973 with just nine tiger reserves and now it has more than 50 reserves. Tiger sits at the peak of the food chain and the increased numbers is a testimony of the robust biodiversity. Because of its ferocity it also stops poaching and logging thus protecting the whole forest.
With 231 tigers, Jim Corbett national park in Uttarakhand is the largest habitat of the big cats in India. Corbett’s tiger count has been rising — from 137 in 2006 to more than 200 now. Corbett is followed by Nagarhole and Bandipur , both in Karnataka; Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh and Kaziranga in Assam. Among states, Madhya Pradesh topped the tiger estimation, with more than500 (it had 308 last time), going past Karnataka.
Corbett is the only reserve with more than 200 tigers and with the highest tiger density in India at 14. There are tigers in Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, Pilibhit reserve and many others. Sohagi Barwa Wildlife Sanctuary which used to be a non-tiger zone in Uttar Pradesh, now has one tiger. However, Mizoram’s Dampa reserve and Bengal’s Buxa lost the six tigers they had between them. There are success stories like Panna Tiger Reserve where the big cats have been relocated and the numbers are rising.
Besides India, both Nepal and Bhutan have doubled their tiger population adopting strict conservation methods. Nepal became the first nation in the world to increase its wild tiger population by 2x times under the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) TX2 Goal. According to Nepal’s the country’s most recent official tiger survey, there were an estimated 235 wild tigers in 2018, nearly twice the number of tigers in 2010. There were years when Nepal recorded zero poaching, a feat by the country’s infrastructure and skilled manpower.
Bhutan, a Buddhist country where tigers are revered, has an estimated 103 Bengal tigers spread around the country, from sub-tropical plains to temperate forests, to high-altitude alpine meadows. The country also provides a critical link between tiger populations in Nepal and North-eastern India, helping to keep populations connected and genetic diversity strong.
At the start of the decade China had no more than 20 wild tigers, but the population is slowly rising. A tigress and her cubs were captured on film at the Jilin Wangqing Nature Reserve in 2014, a sign that tigers were breeding in new territories across the country. Recently a tiger was seen in Tibet region too amid the snows.
Looking back over the last 100 years poaching and habitat loss has driven the global population of wild tigers down from more than 100,000 to just over 3,000 in 2010. Now five of those countries are seeing a growth in tiger numbers, with India, Nepal, and Bhutan having already doubled their tiger populations. “Ten years ago, tigers were in such a perilous state, that there was a very real risk of them becoming extinct in the wild,” said Becci May, regional manager for Asian big cats at WWF UK. From that population low in 2010, they are finally making a remarkable comeback in much of South Asia, Russia, and China, thanks to co-ordinated and concerted conservation efforts in these countries.
However, progress in the remaining eight countries which joined TX2 has been limited, with tigers thought to be extinct in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. That is putting the TX2 target in jeopardy – at the last count in 2016, the global wild tiger population was estimated at 3,900, well short of the 6,400 goals. She insisted the TX2 goal was still achievable but called on the laggard countries to “put their money where their mouth is” to support conservation efforts. It is ironic that with over 10,000 tigers in captivity mainly in farms the population of the big cat is half in the wild. And these firms instead of helping the animal cause their further damage encourage more poaching under cover to keep the business run. China alone has about 6000 captive tigers mostly in government recognised firms and next comes the United States! Such tiger farms are also found in Southeast Asian countries and even in Pakistan where the big cat’s number plummeted to unknown numbers.