Tigers barometer of forest health

Some of the best fed and most handsome specimens of tiger would be found in American homes, where nearly 5,000 of the big cats are held in captivity — more than the entire wild population in the world estimated around 3,000. But the most beautiful would still be in the jungles of India. Not because of their stripes or grace, but what they represent — a forest base in which they have survived. Indications are that this habitat has made a slight recovery from extreme ill health, with the latest tiger census saying the numbers may be up 30 per cent since 2010, and 60 per cent since 2006. Officially, India is now home to 2,226 tigers.

The camera-based identification and counting of tigers, apart from giving more reliable figures, is also part of a larger requirement in conservation - knowledge of what wildlife remains. A major hurdle in establishing the environmental worth of a wild expanse - to ward off the unrelenting march of development — is lack of data on its assets. To formulate any wider policy or a local conservation strategy this information is crucial. The funds available for this are way too inadequate. Most research by even the prestigious Wildlife Institute of India is funded by NGOs or global conservation bodies, rather than the government, which provides funds barely enough to pay the salaries.

Poaching continues to be the most immediate concern, but habitat destruction and isolation of reserves owing to the snapping of wildlife corridors remain the biggest long-term threat. Only a century ago, the number of tigers in India was around 1 lakh, despite the rampant hunting that was happening at the time. It is ironical that Prakash Javadekar should take pride in announcing the latest tiger figures. Among his first orders in the Environment Ministry was a review of the environment protection laws, the outcome of which is only recommendations to relax many of them, and not tighten any. Here is hoping for saner decisions on the review report.

Source: The Tribune