Results of a once-in-four-years estimation of tiger numbers show us that India has about 3,000 of them. This is relevant not only nationally, but also globally — this is a majority of the world’s wild tiger population, of around 4,000 tigers.
The latest estimate says that we have approximately 2,967 tigers in India, up from 2,226 as per the 2014 count. The scope of the effort was different this time: while the 2014 count included tigers that were over 1.5 years of age, this one included tigers as young as one-year-old.
- While tigers are reproducing in India, new state policies are working directly against them. Relaxations in norms to allow for a widening of highway and railway networks are the new threats, adding to the old ones of retaliatory poisoning and poaching.
- A report on management effectiveness of tiger reserves was also released on World Tiger Day. It rated Pench Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh as the best in terms of good management practices. Of all States, Madhya Pradesh has the highest number of tigers, over 500 of them.
- Yet, tiger reserves cannot control what is around them; and the Pench tiger faces a new threat. The National Highway 7 (NH7), which connects Pench and Kanha tiger reserves, has just been widened. Tigers, as well the animals they prey on, find it hard to crossroads. After sustained pressure from citizens and protests from the Madhya Pradesh forest department, authorities built underpasses meant for wildlife through NH7.
- Most National Highways are slated for widening and upgradation, and most tiger reserves have State or National Highways around them. Each year, thousands of animals die on the road. Apart from highways, railway and irrigation projects are coming up in tiger reserves, and the Ken-Betwa river interlinking project will submerge 100 sq. km of Panna Tiger Reserve.
Way forward –
While the numbers are reason to cheer, they can hardly be the whole story. The story is beyond and around the reserve boundaries that tigers have to cross.
- Highways and railways should not be expanded to encroach into tiger areas; irrigation projects should also avoid the areas.
- Cost-benefit analyses need to take into account the needs of wild animals. At the moment, highways are not even able to do away with barriers, and it is assumed that tigers can swim through dam-submerged areas. So, to live, tigers are being made to swim across dams, cross highways, dash across railway lines, not eat livestock, and avoid people.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that development and environment do not need to come at each other’s cost. This is true. And while tigers do not vote, our mandate to save them has never been greater.
Source – The Hindu