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Putting tigers back in the woods

But the Wildlife Protection Society of India, an NGO, estimates tiger deaths in 2021 to be 164 as compared to 111 fatalities in 2020.

Putting tigers back in the woods

CHENNAI: In the backdrop of International Tiger Day observed last month, and the announcement that Tamil Nadu will be hosting the global tiger summit this October, it makes sense to take stock of the natural habitats and conservation efforts pertaining to the peerless predator and India’s national animal.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) estimates that as per the 2018 tiger census, India is home to 2,967 tigers, which is 75% of the global tiger population.

While this is encouraging, 2021 also witnessed the highest number of tiger deaths in a decade, with 126 fatalities compared to 106 tiger deaths in 2020. The last time these many fatalities were recorded was in 2016 with 121 tiger deaths.

But the Wildlife Protection Society of India, an NGO, estimates tiger deaths in 2021 to be 164 as compared to 111 fatalities in 2020.

The WWF’s Impact on Tiger Recovery 2010-2022 report states that the dip in tiger populations in the past few years is a result of depleting ecosystems due to unplanned urbanisation, fragmentation of wildlife corridors, climate change, and poaching for illegal wildlife trade.

NTCA also remarked that of the 126 tiger fatalities, only 65 had taken place inside tiger reserves.

The remaining deaths that took place outside protected zones were attributed to man-animal conflict, poaching, road kill, accidents, habitat loss and depleting base of prey animals.

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Conservationists believe tiger conservation is a concern that requires differentiated strategies for different regions.

In protected zones like the Corbett, Nagarhole and Kaziranga reserves, conservation efforts have reaped encouraging rewards.

However, even in protected areas in reserve forests located in large swathes of eastern and north eastern India, the concept of tiger preservation is still a budding idea as tiger populations are minuscule, or non-existent, in some cases.

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Encouragingly for Tamil Nadu, one year after the Centre approved designating Srivilliputhur-Megamalai Tiger Reserve as India’s 51st tiger reserve and Tamil Nadu’s fifth, the forest department has initiated the drafting of a proposal which will create the sixth tiger reserve in the Erode forest division in the state. Spread over 82,000 hectares, the region is home to around 15-20 tigers.

The tiger population in TN has also witnessed a steep increase, almost doubling since 2006, when it had 76 tigers. The number of big cats surged to 264 as per the last national tiger census in 2018-19.

To add to it, all four tiger reserves in TN (Annamalai, Sathyamangalam, Mudumalai, Kalakad-Mundanthurai) were graded as very good, boasting of the second highest Management Effectiveness Evaluation score pan-India, which went to Annamalai.

Proposals worth Rs 5.5 cr forwarded by the TN Forest Department are currently under the NTCA’s consideration, and these are aimed at enhancing tiger monitoring through drones, camera traps, appointing more anti-poaching units employing local communities, activities to undertake boundary demarcation and consolidation of forests, promoting habitat development and the analysis of predator-prey relationships.

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However, there is still scope for improvement pan-India. Protecting wildlife corridors and keeping them free of encroachments and human activity will be a tall order.

One of the big challenges is to keep such regions away from infrastructural development projects, a cause for man-animal conflicts.

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The tiger is one of the cornerstones of the health of a forested region, and we would be remiss in our duties if we fail to protect this magnificent icon of India’s rich natural heritage.

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