The tiger is the largest cat species. They are territorial and generally solitary animals, often requiring large contiguous areas of habitat that support their prey requirements. This, coupled with the fact that they are indigenous to some of the more densely populated places on Earth, has caused significant conflicts with humans. A 2016 global census estimated the population of wild tigers at approximately 3,890 individuals out which 2500 are said to be in India. The tiger is India’s national animal. The darkest time for the big cat was in 2006 when the reported tiger population in India was only 1,411. Although there has been a steady increase in their population there is a lot which is needed to be done.
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. 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. Other factors contributing to their loss are urbanization and revenge killing. Farmers blame tigers for killing cattle and shoot them. More tigers were killed in the first quarter of 2016 than in the entire previous year. This significant revelation comes at a time when the tiger census numbers are disputed by the scientific community.
In 1973, Project Tiger was launched aiming at ensuring a viable population of tigers in the country and preserving areas of biological importance as a natural heritage for the people. The project’s task force visualized these tiger reserves as breeding nuclei, from which surplus animals would emigrate to adjacent forests. The selection of areas for the reserves represented as close as possible the diversity of ecosystems across the tiger’s distribution in the country. Funds and commitment were mustered to support the intensive program of habitat protection and rehabilitation under the project. By the late 1980’s, the initial nine reserves covering an area of 9,115 square kilometers (3,519 sq mi) had been increased to 15 reserves covering an area of 24,700 square kilometers (9,500 sq mi).
Today India is home to 49 tiger reserves which are run by the Project Tiger. Tiger reserves like Bandipur, Jim Corbett, the Tadoba-Andhari project and Pench are frequented by wildlife lovers. Karnataka has the largest number of tigers in the country while the Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam reserve is the largest in terms of area (3,568 sq km). When it comes to the largest density of tigers in protected areas, Kaziranga National Park in Assam leads the list.
Our planet has become a battlefield where nature is already loosing a war in which it never even participated. But there is always hope, we have to figure out the balance of growth and sustenance. One important thing that we can do is learn as much about tigers as we can, and teach others about the threats they face. As people learn more about tigers, they will try harder to protect them. There are many conservation efforts which have been into practice but in the end it comes down to us as to how we can help.
George Schaller wrote:
“India has to decide whether it wants to keep the tiger or not. It has to decide if it is worthwhile to keep its National Symbol, its icon, representing wildlife. It has to decide if it wants to keep its natural heritage for future generations, a heritage more important than the cultural one, because once destroyed it cannot be replaced.”