Due to decades of poaching and habitat loss, tigers are classified as endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Recently, however, some good news for tigers has been heard. Driven largely by conservation successes in India, Russia, and Nepal, the global population of tigers in the wild has shown significant growth in recent years according to a new survey conducted by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Global Tiger Forum (GTF). The survey estimates the population of wild tigers at 3,890, up from 3,200 in 2010, the lowest number ever.
The survey showed that several countries have seen growth in tiger numbers, but India topped them all. Known as the Land of the Tiger, India is home to two thirds of the world’s tigers, a population that has increased from 1,706 to 2,226 over the past five years.
However, such results are not the product of luck or in case of accident. India’s efforts in tiger conservation are worth studying.
The Bengal tiger primarily lives in India, but can also be found in Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, India and Myanmar. It is the most numerous of all tiger subspecies. In India, the Bengal tiger is the national animal and primarily inhabits 66 tiger reserves. The Bengal tigers’ natural habitats of grasslands, subtropical and tropical rainforests, scrub forests, wet and dry deciduous forests and mangroves are fewer outside of the reserves.
In 1947, when India gained independence from the British crown, estimates counted as many as 40,000 tigers in India. Since then, the number plummeted consistently because of poaching and lack of proper protection. In 1972, the Indian government took emergency action to protect the tiger and its habitat in India through the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 and Project Tiger in 1973. Over the next 20 years, tiger numbers increased to 3,750, becoming one of the most successful conservation ventures launched by the Indian government. Later, however, the tiger population began declining again. In 2007, the Indian government introduced a new tiger conservation plan characterized by bold and urgent steps to end poaching, move forest dwellers away from reserves and transfer tigers between reserves while monitoring their movements.
Although the Indian government has been stepping up efforts to protect tigers, poaching continues to haunt the country. Before India’s independence, many British nobles considered tiger hunting a form of entertainment. After independence, when the price of tiger byproducts surged in the international black market, poaching activities in India exploded. In 2010, exasperated Indian authorities took the extreme move of instructing forest guards to shoot tiger poachers “on sight”.
At dawn on December 13, 2010, a poacher was shot dead in Kaziranga National Park. According to Indian media reports, although few poachers were killed that year, the threat effectively reduced poaching activities exponentially.
In recent years, in addition to continuously fighting tiger poaching with enhanced anti-poaching patrols, India enacted a series of efforts to save tigers. For example, the government offers compensation to farmers or villagers who have been injured or suffered losses as the result of tiger activity in order to prevent retaliatory killings. India has also invested in tourist projects of sustainable development around tiger reserves, a model that has been working so well that officials are discussing expanding the reserve system. Besides, roads have been shifted around reserves, and engineers have designed tunnels and overpasses to help tigers move across the landscape without the risks of interactions with humans.
At the 3rd Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation from April 12 to 14, 2016, in New Delhi, the Indian government called on international cooperation among countries in which tigers live and promised to help Cambodia and other countries to increase their populations of tigers.
“India is investing unprecedented resources in tiger conservation, and now we are starting to see those investments paying off,” says Ginette Hemley, senior vice president for conservation at WWF.
Edited for China-India Dialogue from the article “Why Has India Become the Land of the Tiger?” by Yang Xiaowen, published in Yangcheng Evening News, with additional information from the WWF website and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC website.