On International Tiger Day, here’s why India must continue striving to protect, expand tiger-friendly ecosystems

India is home to over 2,967 tigers, around 70 percent of the world’s tiger population.mMadhya Pradesh, which is often called the Tiger State, is home to over 526 tigers, the highest in the country

India’s story on tiger conservation is special. It underscores what political will and execution can achieve. We live in times where we hear far too often of environmental damage and degradation. In this context, numbers detailing India’s success in tiger conservation are heartening, to say the least.

India is home to over 2,967 tigers, around 70 percent of the world’s tiger population. We have as many as 51 reserves in 18 states, and our country has doubled the tiger population four years ahead of schedule of the St Petersburg Declaration on Tiger Conservation.

But we must look at the bigger picture which this data fails to manifest in isolation. The impact of tiger conservation goes far beyond just increasing the population of the predator. We at IGNTU have seen first-hand how the preservation of tiger-friendly ecosystems has helped Madhya Pradesh develop holistically and sustainably. Consistent efforts to conserve tigers by expanding tiger-friendly ecosystems have protected the livelihoods of people from marginalized sections of society, particularly tribals, and a large section of people dependent on forest resources.

Our tiger conservation efforts have been people-centric and people-driven. They have actively involved local communities. The result is that today, Madhya Pradesh, which is often called the Tiger State, is home to over 526 tigers, the highest in the country. Madhya Pradesh has held the tag of Tiger State in the last decade except in the census of the year 2010 and 2014 when the state of Karnataka remained at the top place with maximum tigers. The state administration has been supportive and has helped implement several innovations to ensure not just tiger conservation but also overall wildlife conservation.

It has been a long journey. Over the past one and a half decades, 167 villages from protected areas were rehabilitated at suitable places to provide habitat for tigers and other wild animals. More than 15,000 families living with minimum facilities in inaccessible forest areas were brought out of the forests and settled in village towns. As a result of this, wild animals got an undisturbed habitat. Along with this, the financial condition of the forest dwellers also improved.

Today in Madhya Pradesh, tigers are found not only in tiger reserves but are also found roaming like other animals, across regional forest divisions even at the periphery of big cities like Bhopal. In the year 2018, the tiger population in Panna was dwindling. To address the situation, the state forest department brought tigers from other protected areas and resettled them in the Panna Tiger Reserve. Today, Panna Tiger Reserve has returned to its old glory thanks to continuous efforts not just on increasing tiger numbers but also on creating an enabling environment for them to grow.

Among the direct interventions for tiger conservation is an initiative started in 2005-06, which entails releasing orphan tiger cubs in their natural habitat as soon as they become adults. In the Ghorela enclosure of Kanha Tiger Reserve, as many as nine tiger cubs have been released upon attaining adulthood. This success has got fame the world over as the “Ghorela” model.

India conducts a tiger census every four years. It has three stages. In the first phase, the data of tigers, other carnivorous and large herbivorous animals, i.e. their claw prints, their droppings, scratch marks and the hunts made by them is collected.

The success of tiger conservation efforts has had multifold and far-reaching benefits, benefits which have been truly transformational for local communities, benefits which we have had the fortune of witnessing closely. It is not just about protecting tigers but entire ecosystems, a philosophy and way of life.

It is crucial for India to continue pursuing tiger conservation by protecting and expanding tiger-friendly ecosystems because this enables the sustainable development of a very large section of our population. Apart from being ecologically sensitive, and the right thing to do, tiger conservation brings large-scale prosperity. Respect for flora and fauna is deeply rooted in Indian thought and tradition. It would only be right for us to not rest on our laurels and continue pursuing incremental gains.

India’s success in tiger conservation is a global story that inspires other countries. It also helps us continue treading the path to meet our climate commitments.

The author is a professor at Indira Gandhi National Tribal University, Amarkantak.

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