As the number of tigers in India increased from 1,411 to 1,706 in four years, Chetan Chauhan speaks with environment minister Jairam Ramesh on new figures.
Q. What is your take on new tiger estimation figure?
A. First of all, I think the broad news is positive. A like for like comparison to 1411 tigers in 2006 has now become 1636, which is about 12 % increase. The best estimate for 2010 is 1,706. I am removing 70 tigers of Sunderbans. That is the good news. Second bit of good news has come from south India, terrai region and Maharashtra as tigers there are doing well. Third food news is that we have 650 photographs of tigers as compared to 500 last time. So, I think very good exercise we have done. One in every four sq kms of tiger areas have been camera trapped. Average period of camera trap was 60 days. We can now say camera trap methodology is well-established.
Q What is the flip side of the Census?
A. Bad news is there has been decline in area of tiger occupancy from nine million hectares to about seven million hectares. It has happened largely in northern Andhra Pradesh and Central India. That is a cause for concern. I am disappointed with very poor count of tigers in northeastern India, which has good tiger habitats.
Q What are the reasons for shrinkage in tiger areas?
A. Corridors are under severe threat. First victim of national highways or mining project are tiger corridors. The threat is not coming from poaching, it is from the development itself. The way we plan our national highways and the way we do our coal mining are not tiger friendly. We need to discuss this at a national level.
Q. The estimation has found that many tigers are outside the protected areas. Isn't it a reason of concern?
A. We on 39 tiger reserves. But, one-third of our tigers are outside our tiger reserves. We don't have a strategy to deal with the tigers outside the tiger reserves. We have to do better forestry and corridor management to protect them. While it is good that tiger population is cause for some satisfaction, the challenges remain. For two long in our country the tiger
debate has concentrated on Ranthambore, Corbett and Kanha. We must look at south India, which has single largest concentration of tigers in the world. If we have to provide life to tigers we have to think beyond Corbetts and Ranthambores.
Q. What are the surprises for you in the estimation?
A. Increase in tiger numbers in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh is a pleasant surprise to me. Everyone was feeling that there are more tigers there but now it has been confirmed.