The latest tiger census, released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday in the election-bound state of Karnataka, showed an impressive 3,167 big cats in India, 200 more than the last census in 2018.
The census report came on the occasion of 50th anniversary of Project Tiger. Launched on this day in 1973 by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at Corbett Park, the project pulled back the tiger from the brink of certain extinction and is considered one of the most successful endeavours of its kind anywhere in the world.
Modi on Monday gave more teeth to Project Tiger by launching the International Big Cat Alliance (IBCA). The alliance will work for the protection of tigers, lions, leopards, jaguars, pumas, cheetahs and snow leopards among the range countries of these big cats. In particular, it aims to put a lid on poaching of big cats and their illegal trade.
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Numbers don’t lie, but often they do not give the true picture either. The increase in the tiger population is a welcome development, but it falls way behind the 4,000-plus tigers which India had in 1998.
To catch up to that figure — the highest in the past 50 years — will not be easy. Thanks to Modi’s visit, the wildlife circles in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu were buzzing with excitement throughout the day. At Mysuru, where his chopper landed in the morning, he took a whirlwind safari of the picturesque Bandipur Tiger Reserve and was even blessed with a tiger sighting.
He interacted with lots of forest officials, right from the field directors of various national parks who were in attendance to the members of forest patrolling teams. He also released a booklet `Amrit Kaal Ka Tiger Vision’, which talks of strengthening tiger conservation for the next 25 years, as well as a commemorative stamp to mark the golden jubilee of Project Tiger.
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The Prime Minister, it may be pointed out, has released only the summary report of the All India Tiger Estimation. Prepared by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NYCA) with inputs from Dehradun based Wildlife Institute of India (WII), the report will have several important features such as the health of India’s forests and threats faces by tigers in various parts of the country.
No habitat for tigers
Gradual loss of “quality” forest which a tiger prefers for its territory as well as shrinking of natural corridors have started impacting tigers and other big animals. Veterans from last generation would recall how tigers and elephants would move freely between Corbett Park and Rajaji Park in Uttar Pradesh (now in Uttarakhand).
The corridor, situated just ahead of Kotdwar town at a place called Leed Khadeda, used to be 3 km wide with thick forest cover on both sides. Now it stands reduced to 200 yards, with human settlements wiping out the green cover and preventing wildlife to move across even in the dead of the night.
The situation will not be too different in many other parts of India, since little has been done to either preserve or regenerate wildlife corridors. But all this will come later, when the report comes out in its entirety and gives the latest account of tiger’s health and the state of forests. Today belonged to “wildlifer” Narendra Modi and he made every minute count.
From Bandipur, he hopped over to Tamil Nadu to exchange pleasantries with Bomman and Bellie, the couple behind the Oscar winner documentary The Elephant Whisperers.
He went to Theppakadu elephant camp in Tamil Nadu’s Mudumalai Tiger Reserve where the couple lives. He also fed sugarcane to the captive elephants in the camp.
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India, pointed out Modi, was the largest tiger range country in the world. He also stressed that the country was also home to several other important species: with 30,000 elephants, it’s the largest range of Asiatic elephants which also holds an impressive 3,000 one-horned rhinos as well as 675 Asiatic lions and large number of leopards.
A tiger, said Modi, was always a part of India’s ethos and culture. “A large number of communities worship tiger. It’s also the vehicle of Godess Durga and Lord Ayappa,” he added.