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[Sansad TV] Perspective – Project Tiger: Reclaiming Territories

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Context

  • Project Tiger started in 1973, one of the largest species conservation initiatives in the world, is in its 49th year.
  • It has helped in restoring the population and strengthening conservation efforts for tigers.
  • However there are many challenges too. Managing the tiger population, giving them safe habitat, avoiding human-tiger conflicts are some of the issues that the project has faced.
  • Having said that, less than three thousand populations still puts these majestic cats in endangered species.

What more needs to be done to create a safe and secure environment for tigers? What are the challenges? We will try to find out in this article.

What is Project Tiger?

https://www.naturesafariindia.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/bengal-tiger-factss1-724x1024.jpg.jpg

  • Launched from Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand, the project is an ongoing scheme of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
  • The centrally sponsored scheme is applicable in nine reserves of different States, namely Assam, Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. 
Project Tiger has been converted into a statutory authority, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) by providing enabling provisions in the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 through an amendment, via Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 2006.  The NTCA addresses ecological and administrative concerns for conserving tigers. It provides a statutory basis for the protection of tiger reserves and provides strengthened institutional mechanisms for the protection of ecologically sensitive areas and endangered species.

Purpose of Project Tiger

The tiger is a unique animal that plays a pivotal role in the health and diversity of an ecosystem.

  • Predation balance: It is a top predator which is at the apex of the food chain.
  • Regulation of herbivores: It keeps the population of wild ungulates in check, thereby maintaining the balance between prey herbivores and the vegetation upon which they feed.
  • Ecosystem balance: Therefore, the presence of tigers in the forest is an indicator of the well being of the ecosystem.
  • Tourism: Apart from the ecological services provided by the animal, the tiger also offers direct use such as attracting tourists, which provide incomes for local communities.

Execution of the Project

Project Tiger was administered by the NTCA. The overall administration of the project is monitored by a steering committee, which is headed by a director. A field director is appointed for each reserve, who is assisted by a group of field and technical personnel.

  1. Shivalik-Terai Conservation Unit
  2. North-East Conservation Unit
  3. Sunderbans Conservation Unit
  4. Western Ghats Conservation Unit
  5. Eastern Ghats Conservation Unit
  6. Central India Conservation Unit
  7. Sariska Conservation Unit
  8. Kaziranga Conservation Unit

The various tiger reserves were created in the country based on the ‘core-buffer’ strategy:

  • Core Area: are free of all human activities. It has the legal status of a national park or wildlife sanctuary. It is kept free of biotic disturbances and forestry operations like a collection of minor forest produce, grazing, and other human disturbances are not allowed within.
  • Buffer Areas: are subjected to ‘conservation-oriented land use’. They comprise forest and non-forest land. It is a multi-purpose use area with twin objectives of providing habitat supplement to spillover population of wild animals from the core conservation unit and providing site-specific co-developmental inputs to surrounding villages for relieving their impact on the core area.

Issues with the Project

  • Implementation bottlenecks: The efforts were hampered by poaching, as well as debacles and irregularities in Sariska and Namdapha, both of which were reported extensively in the Indian media.
  • Forest Dwellers Rights: The Forest Rights Act passed by the Indian government in 2006 recognizes the rights of some forest dwelling communities in forest areas. This has led to controversy over implications of such recognition for tiger conservation.
  • Man-Animal Conflict: Some have argued that this is problematic as it will increase conflict and opportunities for poaching; some also assert that “tigers and humans cannot co-exist”.
  • Abuse of Authority: Others argue that this is a limited perspective that overlooks the reality of human-tiger coexistence and the abuse of power by authorities, evicting local people and making them pariahs in their own traditional lands.

Other efforts to save Tigers

India is home to 70 percent of the global tiger population. Therefore, the country has an important role to play in tiger conservation.

[1] Project Tiger

(discussed above)

[2] CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)

  • Besides protecting tiger territory, other measures being taken to save the tiger include: curbing wildlife trade through international agreements.
  • CITES is an international agreement between governments aimed at ensuring that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants, including tigers, does not threaten their survival. India ratified this treaty in 1976.

[3] Global Tiger Forum and Tiger Range Countries

  • Established in 1994, the Global Tiger Forum is the only inter-governmental body for tiger conservation.
  • Its membership includes seven tiger range countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal and Vietnam.

[4] CA|TS

  • 14 tiger reserves have been accredited under CA|TS (Conservation Assured | Tiger Standards) categories.
  • The CA|TS is a set of criteria that examines the management of tiger sites to gauge the success rates of tiger conservation.

[5] St. Petersburg Declaration   

  • This resolution was adopted In November 2010, by the leaders of 13 tiger range countries (TRCs) assembled at an International Tiger Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia
  • It aimed at promoting a global system to protect the natural habitat of tigers and raise awareness among people on white tiger conservation.

[6] Various NGOs

  • International NGO members consist of World Wildlife Fund, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and TRAFFIC.
  • Several national NGOs from India and Nepal are also members.

Success of the Project Tiger

The four-year tiger census report, Status of Tigers in India, 2018 shows numbers of the big cat have increased across all landscapes.

The total count has risen to 2,967 from 2,226 in 2014 — an increase of 741 individuals (aged more than one year), or 33%, in four years.

  • At present, India has around 75% of tiger population and its source areas amongst the 13 tiger range countries in the world.
  • 2.24% of country’s geographical area is spread out in 51 tiger reserves in 18 States.

Various threats to Tigers

  • Despite measures being initiated to protect wild tigers, habitat loss and poaching continue to pose a threat to the animal’s survival.
  • Tiger parts are used in traditional Chinese medicines, tiger skin is used for decorative and medicinal purposes and tiger bones are again used for medicinal purposes for curing body pain, et al.
  • Between 2000 and 2014, TRAFFIC’s research found that parts of a minimum of 1,590 Tigers were seized in Tiger range States, an average of two Tigers per week.

Other existential threats to tigers

  • Man-Animal conflict: This largely seems a normal phenomenon in India. We broadly remember the case of Tigress Avni which was finally shot dead by the forest officials in Maharashtra.
  • Shrinking habitat: This often leads to territorial conflicts among the Tigers.
  • Issues with Tourism: Excess of tourist activities is problematic for animals. Frequent visits in reserved forests areas disrupt them to move freely for their prey.
  • Climate Change: The effects of climate change and floods are a major problem.  The latest study by WWF shows that Sundarban which is one of the biggest home of tigers in India would sink entirely in 2070.

Way forward

  • The process of tiger conservation should be more dynamic and compatible with the future possibilities of climatic changes as well.
  • The Forest Department and the Central government can collaborate to protect the natural corridors to ensure the free movement of the tigers for better food resources.
  • Campaigns such as ‘Save the Tiger’ are recommended as effective measures to make people across the country and globe aware of the significance of conserving tiger species.
  • Sensitization of local communities against poaching is also a crucial measure in this regard.
  • We have to make the environment and development co-exist and go hand in hand by planning our future developmental goals in such a manner that our environmental goals are not compromised.
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