According to the data on Wild tiger deaths released by National Tiger Conservation Authority(NTCA), 63 tiger were killed in India in 2013. It’s slightly less as compared to 72 Tigers lost in 2012, but the number itself is a major cause of concern. The graph below shows major reasons for tiger loss in 2013 with corresponding number of tigers lost due to it.
For further details, one could read the article published in, The Hindu Newspaper, on 2nd Jan 2014.
India is known to have had 40,000+ tigers in beginning of the 20th century, but the hunting done by then ruling British Government officials and Maharajahs of India in name of ‘Sport Hunting’ lead to sharp decline of Tiger population. Advent of fire arms, during the British Raj in India, had a major part to play in decline of Tigers. On an average 380-400 tigers were killed annually just for the sake of hunting expeditions, and later on the wretched creature’s skin was kept as a trophy.
Another reason for this downfall was rapid encroachment of forest area. Before Independence, deforestation was carried out as wood was required for British Naval ships etc and open area was required to setup new colonies that could house Britishers. In 1947, India got independence from the British rule, but the rapid growth in Indian population resulted in even more encroachment; more land was needed for farming purposes as there were more mouths to feed and almost all the rural population was depended on wood from the forests to support their daily livelihood. But it didn’t stop the Tigers from getting hunted. According to some reports, a tiger was killed just for a bounty of Rs. 30 to Rs. 45.
This is important to mention that, when on one side some Britishers were hunting for Tigers just for the sake of the sport, on the other side some Britishers were advocating against it. Two of these men are, F.W.Champion and Jim Corbett.
India was not far from initiating special measures towards Tiger conservation. In 1973, as per request and advise from a WWF trustee, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi initiated “Project Tiger“. During the inauguration of this project, she spelt out her political will:
” But the tiger cannot be preserved in isolation. It is at the apex of a large and complex biotope. Its habitat, threatened by human intrusion, commercial forestry and cattle grazing must first be made inviolate. Forestry practices designed to squeeze the last rupee out of our jungle, must be radically oriented least within our national parks and sanctuaries and pre-eminently in our tiger reserves. The narrow outlook of the accountant must give way to a wider vision of recreational, educational, and ecological value of totally undisturbed areas of our wilderness. Is it beyond our political will and administrative ingenuity to set aside about one to two per cent of our forest in their pristine glory for this purpose?”
As one can see from the graph below, since the beginning of the project, the tiger population showed tremendous growth till 1990’s. There was a sharp decrease in 1993 and this number was somewhat maintained till 2002. But shockingly, there was an exponential drop in 2006 and the project is still struggling to increase the numbers bit by bit. Main cause for this downfall is attributed to increase in poaching activities, which was a resultant of increase in demand of tiger body parts for production of traditional Chinese medicines etc. And ofcourse, the number released by the government bodies cant be fully trusted, as we learned from the Sariska Reserve cover up.
All things said, various initiatives launched by tiger conservation authorities, like National Tiger Conservation Authority(NTCA), have resulted in increase in tiger population since 2006. And now the new tiger census measure launched in 2013 by NTCA will help us have a better idea towards the actual number of tigers in India. Every tiger spotted in the 2013-2014 census will have to pass through three tests including camera trap and DNA testing of tiger scat to minimize duplicate counting. The new population estimate will also help the NTCA to expand its digital database of tigers and make a first comparative analysis on individual tigers. Every tiger caught on camera will be given a unique identification number based on their stripe patterns using computer software and a database maintained for the entire country. They already have picture database of 80% of tigers living inside 42 reserves.
In the end, we can only hope that all the measures taken and efforts being made toward tiger conservation works out. As they say, charity begins at home, by publishing this small articles i am taking another step toward making people aware of the appalling condition of our Bengal tigers. I believe you’ll do your part too.