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Why India must not celebrate the rise in tiger numbers

Five hundred and twenty ‘new’ tigers have been reported in India but the big cat is far from safe

editorials Updated: Apr 13, 2016 08:21 IST
Bengal Tigers at Delhi Zoo, April 4
Bengal Tigers at Delhi Zoo, April 4(Hindustan Times)

A day before the 3rd Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation began in New Delhi on April 12, WWF International announced that for the first time after decades of decline, tiger numbers are on the rise: In 2010, there were 3,200 tigers in the world and in 2015, the number rose to 3,890.

India accounts for almost three-fifths of the new total: 520 ‘new’ tigers were reported in India, increasing the count from 1,706 (2010) to 2,226 (2014). Along with the revised tiger count, there was yet another piece of good news related to wildlife: Three of the biggest shipping and airline companies in India signed the Buckingham Palace Declaration that binds signatories to 11 commitments aimed at preventing traffickers from exploiting weaknesses in the covert journey of their products from killing field to marketplace. The commitments focus on information sharing, staff training, technological improvements, and resource sharing across companies and organisations worldwide.

Read | 3,890 tigers roam world’s forests, count rises for 1st time in century

Tigers will benefit from this development. The animal, which is classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ Red List of Threatened Species is threatened by poaching and habitat loss. Statistics from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, show that at least 1,590 tigers were seized by law enforcement officials across the world between January 2000 and April 2014, disrupting a multi-billion dollar illegal wildlife trade.

Read | U’khand: DNA profiling of tigers in 34 reserves to begin in April

Despite such positive developments, tigers in India face tremendous challenges, but don’t blame poachers only. In pursuit of economic development, tiger habitats are being are being opened up for industries and road-building activities and many will submerge because of river-linking projects and construction of dams. In addition, India’s Project Tiger is also falling prey to politics and economics.

Read | 30% rise in tiger population: Reality or victory only on paper?

Since Project Tiger began in 1973, it has been funded by the Centre. This year onwards the Centre will put in 60% and the states the remaining 40%. But many states may not have the money or manpower to support such an intensive programme. That central leaders have been paying lip service to environment and wildlife is clear from the fact that there is a strong desire to dilute the country’s environmental and wildlife laws. The rise in the number of tigers is great news but it must also ignite a debate on what should be done to tackle the challenges that the big cat faces.