India's tiger population has fallen drastically. Initial estimates from 16 of the country’s 28 tiger reserves in 2006-07 indicate a 50 per cent fall in the number of tigers in four central Indian states in the last five years, according to estimates released on Wednesday by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).
There are only 490 tigers in the 16 reserves across Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Chattisgarh (excluding the Indravati reserve), down from 1,233 in 2002. A final census is expected by the end of 2007.
The government’s first tiger census, conducted under the Project Tiger initiative begun in 1973, counted 1,827 tigers in the country that year. Since then the tiger population had seen a steady rise to reach 3,700 tigers in 2002.
The WII estimates showed that tiger numbers had fallen in Madhya Pradesh by 61 per cent, Maharashtra by 57 per cent and Rajasthan by 40 per cent. Dr YV Jhala, chief scientist at the WII, said: "It is extremely important to remove the anthropogenic (human) presence in tiger habitats."
Sunita Narian, who headed the Tiger Task Force constituted after tigers vanished from the Sariska forest reserve in Rajasthan, has asked the government to take up the relocation of the one lakh people — in 1500 villages — living inside tiger reserves. Project Tiger officials have sought an allocation of Rs 600 crore from the Planning Commission in the 11th Plan.
Half the world’s surviving tigers are in India. But conservationists say the country will have to make a serious effort if it wants to save the big cats. "The WII report is a step forward. We have to work on it to save the tigers,” said Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.