July 29 marks International Tiger Day, dedicated to raising awareness about the conservation of these majestic big cats and celebrating the efforts made to protect and preserve their dwindling population.
Tigers, once abundant across Asia, saw their numbers plummet over the years, pushing them to the brink of extinction. However, thanks to extensive conservation efforts, India, home to the majority of the world's remaining wild tigers, has seen a remarkable turnaround in its population.
A History of Tiger Killing in India
At the beginning of the 20th century, there were around 100,000 tigers roaming across Asia. Tragically, by 2006, India's tiger population hit a record low with only 1,411 individuals remaining. This rapid decline was primarily attributed to human-related factors.
Agricultural expansion, deforestation, and infrastructure development led to the fragmentation of tiger habitats, leaving them with just 7% of the land they once occupied. Tigers, solitary animals requiring vast territories, faced a rise in human-tiger conflicts, further threatening their existence.
The Sobering State of Tigers in India
The 2023 tiger census, released in April this year, provided a glimmer of hope. It revealed that India now houses 3,167 tigers, accounting for an impressive 75% of the world's total tiger population. Despite the encouraging increase, challenges remain as tigers continue to face habitat destruction, illegal poaching, and the impact of climate change.
Conservation Efforts Bear Fruit
India's journey towards tiger conservation has been an arduous yet successful one. The nation's commitment to preserving its national animal led to the establishment of 53 tiger reserves, covering approximately 75,800 square kilometres. This area has significantly expanded since the initiation of Project Tiger, which started with just nine reserves.
Innovative conservation measures have been deployed to safeguard the tiger population. Authorities have undertaken relocation efforts, where entire villages have been moved to create safe havens for the big cats. Wildlife corridors have also been established to connect fragmented habitats, facilitating the movement of tigers across protected areas.
Embracing Technology for Tiger Conservation
The Indian government has embraced modern technology to aid tiger conservation efforts. Drones, camera traps, and sophisticated software systems have been deployed to monitor tiger populations, track their movements, and understand their behaviour better. This data-driven approach has enabled authorities to implement targeted conservation strategies.
Rising to Global Challenges
India's conservation achievements are not without challenges. The rapidly deteriorating climate poses a significant threat to vulnerable tiger habitats. Many protected areas now find themselves isolated in landscapes dominated by unsustainable human activities.
The ongoing menace of illegal poaching also demands constant vigilance and stricter enforcement of anti-poaching laws.
International Big Cats Alliance: Expanding India's Impact
Building on the success of Project Tiger, India has taken the lead in tiger conservation at an international level. Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the International Big Cats Alliance on the 'Commemoration of 50 years of Project Tiger' in April this year.
This alliance aims to conserve all seven big cat species across the planet, leveraging India's learnings from its pioneering conservation initiative. India is also working on similar projects for lions and dolphins.
India's remarkable success in tiger conservation has not gone unnoticed. The country has actively engaged with other nations facing declining tiger numbers, signing bilateral agreements and conducting conservation workshops. Sharing knowledge and experiences with countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Bhutan reinforces India's commitment to global wildlife conservation.
Celebrating Conservation Success Stories
As we commemorate International Tiger Day, we celebrate India's conservation triumphs. The Pench Tiger Reserve, immortalized in Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book," stands as a shining example. The reserve witnessed a fivefold increase in its tiger population from 9 in 2006 to 44 in 2021, earning it the prestigious TX2 Award.
Continuing the Conservation Journey
While India's progress in tiger conservation is commendable, the work is far from over. With a rapidly growing population and ongoing environmental challenges, maintaining tiger habitats and safeguarding these iconic creatures will require relentless dedication. The commitment to Project Tiger, now backed by statutory and administrative powers, stands as a testament to India's unwavering dedication to preserving its national treasure.
As the world joins hands-on International Tiger Day to celebrate India's success and raise awareness about tiger conservation, let us remember that these efforts must be sustained and amplified to ensure that future generations can continue to marvel at the beauty and grace of these regal creatures in the wild.