General Studies Paper 3

Context: Recently, the Indian Prime Minister marked the 50th anniversary of Project Tiger by putting out a 5th cycle of India’s Tiger Census. Based on the survey, the tiger population in India has grown from 1,411 in 1972 to 3,167 in 2022. The Prime Minister established the International Big Cats Alliance (IBCA) to further safeguard these great cats. At the same time, a commemorative coin was made to mark the end of 50 years of “Project Tiger.”

Note: The IBCA will focus on the protection and conservation of seven major big cats of the world — Tiger, Lion, Leopard, Snow Leopard, Puma, Jaguar, and Cheetah, with membership in the range of countries harbouring these species.

About the recent increase in tiger population in India  

  • India since 2006 has been conducting scientific tiger population estimation once every four years. According to the latest report, the number of tigers has recorded a 6.74% increase from 2,967 in the last census in 2018 to 3,167 in 2022. The number was 1,411 in 2006.
  • India is now home to 75% of the global tiger population and also the “largest tiger range country in the world”.
  • The rate of increase has slowed down to less than 7% over the period, down from more than 30% in the previous four years.
  • The only landscape in India where the tiger population has gone down is the Western Ghats, where declaring of an ecologically sensitive zone has been hanging since 2010.
  • The tiger populations have declined in the central Indian states of Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, even though tigers have been spotted for the first time in Himachal Pradesh and in new areas in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

What are the reasons led to the increasing tiger population in India?  

  • Conservation Efforts: India has implemented various conservation efforts to protect tigers, including the establishment of protected areas, anti-poaching patrols, and community involvement. For example, Project Tiger was launched in 1973 to protect tigers and their habitats, and it has led to an increase in tiger populations in many areas.
  • Habitat Restoration:The restoration of tiger habitat has been a key factor in their population recovery. Efforts have been made to reduce human encroachment and restore natural habitats by reforestation and reducing deforestation. For instance, in Sariska Tiger Reserve, where tigers were once completely wiped out, efforts have been made to restore the habitat and reintroduce tigers.
  • Strict laws against poaching:India has implemented strict laws against poaching and the illegal trade of tiger parts. This has reduced the number of tigers killed for their skin, bones, and other body parts.
  • Prey Base Management: Managing the prey base for tigers is important to ensure their survival. The increase in prey populations, such as deer and wild boar, has resulted in a rise in tiger numbers. Efforts are being made to improve the prey base by managing their populations and reducing their hunting by humans.
  • Reduced Human-Tiger Conflict:Human-tiger conflict has been a significant threat to tiger populations. Measures to reduce such conflicts, such as building barriers, compensation for livestock losses, and relocation of problematic tigers, have helped to prevent the loss of tigers due to human-wildlife conflict.

What is the significance of conserving the tiger population?  

  • Ecological importance:Tigers are apex predators in their ecosystem, and their presence helps maintain a balance in the food chain. Their conservation ensures the protection of other species and their habitats, contributing to overall ecosystem health.
  • Economic benefits:The presence of tigers in protected areas attracts tourists from around the world, generating significant revenue for local communities and governments. Tiger conservation can also create employment opportunities in ecotourism and related industries.
  • Cultural and spiritual significance: Tigers hold a special place in many cultures and religions, and are often considered symbols of power, strength, and beauty. Conserving tigers help preserve cultural and spiritual heritage for future generations.
  • Genetic diversity:Tigers are a genetically diverse species, with distinct subspecies found in different regions of the world. Conserving tiger populations helps preserve this genetic diversity, which can be important for the long-term survival of the species.
  • Climate change adaptation:Tigers require large areas of intact forest habitat to survive, which also provides important ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and water regulation. Conserving tiger habitats can help mitigate the effects of climate change by preserving these important ecological functions.
  • Scientific Research:Tigers are a keystone species and their conservation can provide valuable insights into ecological processes and conservation biology. Studying tiger behaviour and their interactions with other species can help in developing effective conservation strategies for other species and ecosystems.

What are the government initiatives focused on improving the tiger population in India?  

  • Project Tiger: The ‘Project Tiger’ is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, providing funding support to tiger range States for in-situ conservation of tigers in designated tiger reserves, and has put the endangered tiger on an assured path of recovery by saving it from extinction, as revealed by the recent findings of the All India tiger estimation using the refined methodology.
  • National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA): It is a statutory body under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change constituted under enabling provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, as amended in 2006, for strengthening tiger conservation, as per powers and functions assigned to it under the said Act.It works closely with state governments and other stakeholders to implement various measures for the protection and management of tiger reserves.
  • Tiger Census: The government conducts a national tiger census every four years to estimate the tiger population in the country.
  • Community Reserves:The government has also established Conservation Reserves and Community Reserves to protect critical tiger habitats outside of the designated tiger reserves. These reserves are managed by local communities and provide alternative livelihoods to local people while conserving the tiger population.
  • Eco-Sensitive Zones: The government has declared several areas around tiger reserves as Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs) to protect the biodiversity of these areas. Eco Sensitive Zones act as some kind of “shock absorbers” to the Protected Areas by prohibiting, regulating and promoting activities around Protected Areas.
  • Project Elephant: While this is not directly related to tigers, Project Elephant was launched in 1992 to protect the elephant population in the country. As elephants and tigers share similar habitats, the initiative has indirectly benefited tiger populations as well. The project aims to protect elephant corridors and habitats, prevent poaching, and mitigate human-elephant conflicts.
  • Global Tiger Forum(GTF): It is the inter-governmental international body established in 1993 with members from willing countries to embark on a global campaign to protect the Tiger. It is located in New Delhi, India.
  • Global Tiger Initiative(GTI):It was launched in 2008 as a global alliance of governments, international organizations, civil society and the private sector with the aim of working together to save wild tigers from extinction. In 2013, the scope was broadened to include Snow Leopards.

What are the challenges with the increased tiger population in India? 

  • With the increased tiger population there are a few challenges also. These include,
  • Firstly, with the increase in India’s human population, the natural habitat of tigers has been gradually destroyed. Consequently, there is a higher likelihood of encounters between humans and tigers as the tiger population expands. Managing man-animal conflict at socially and economically tolerable limits will be challenging.
  • Secondly, there is a carrying capacity of tiger reserves that can support tigers. Few of the tiger reserves in India are already on the threshold of it.
  • Thirdly, the population of tigers is dependent on the prey population, which means that for the tiger population to increase sustainably, there must be a corresponding increase in the prey population.
  • Fourthly, there is a lack of corridors which connect adjacent tiger reserves. These are crucial for the long-term viability of individual tiger populations. But these corridors often pass through unprotected government and private lands.

Way forward:

  • Habitat Restoration: Restoration of the remaining tiger habitat with a prey base is essential before tigers can occupy it. Prey base in the habitats of states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, and North Eastern States of Arunachal, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Assam should be restored.
  • Construction of Corridors for Gene Pool: Habitat linkages in the form of corridors to form metapopulations by connecting these Tiger Reserves is a vital strategy for long-term viability of individual tiger populations. These corridors often pass through unprotected government and private lands. Infrastructure passing through corridor habitats needs to be mitigated appropriately and land conversions monitored through a legal mechanism to ensure that there is no barrier effect to the movement of tigers.
  • Conflict Management: Managing the man-animal conflict is easier to achieve in India, where religious and cultural values permit some of the highest levels of tolerance amongst human societies. Sharing revenues from tiger reserves with communities residing in the buffer zone and corridor habitats, compensating for all damage at market rates, and removing problem tigers immediately would prevent a backlash against the species.
  • Need genetic rescue plan: India should carry a genetic rescue plan or even the introduction of novel genetic variants using genome sequencing technology.
  • Monitoring: Proper monitoring of tiger populations and their habitats is important to track the success of conservation efforts.
  • Education and Awareness: Education and awareness campaigns can help in changing people’s attitudes towards tigers and their conservation.
  • Government Support: The government needs to provide adequate funding for conservation efforts and ensure that laws and regulations related to wildlife conservation are strictly enforced.
  • Curbing Illegal Trade: Illegal trade in tiger parts and products needs to be curbed through strict law enforcement and awareness campaigns.
  • Involve Local Communities: Involving local communities in conservation efforts and providing them with alternative livelihood options can help reduce the pressure on forests and wildlife.
  • International Cooperation: International cooperation and collaboration are necessary to address issues such as habitat loss, poaching, and illegal trade, which are global in nature.
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