Tiger Census and its Aftermath

VK Bahuguna

(The writer is retired civil servant)

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 29th July 2019 on the occasion of the International Tiger released the 2018 Tiger Estimation report with a great fun fare and broke the happy news of significant increase in Tiger population in the country. Terming the success of Tiger conservation in India as "Baghon me Bahar hai" echoing the old Hindi file song. According to the estimation report the Tiger population has increased from 1400 in 2014 to 2967 in 2019, a solid growth of 34%. It is a remarkable achievement for the country that in spite of several hiccups in conservation the country has emerged as the safest habitat for the Tiger conservation. India has three fourth of the world Tiger population. High lighting the Tiger conservation efforts in the country the Prime Minister said that St Petersburg resolve of the international community for doubling the Tiger population by 2022 was achieved by India four years in advance. He exhorted the conservationist that the story of protecting tigers that started with "Ek Tha Tiger" (there was once a tiger) and reached "Tiger Zinda Hai" (the tiger is alive) should not end there, and stressed the need for speeding up the conservation efforts. Soon after this, thePrime Minister Modi featured in a special episode of Man versus Wild with Bear Grylls the adventurist and it signifies the deep love of Mr Narendra Modi for the wild animals and nature. The documentary was telecast by Discovery Channel on August 12th and had sent a message to the youth of the country to venture out in nature. PM Modi became the second world leader after then US President Barack Obama to feature in the show where the host takes viewers on a wild journey into nature. Earlier during his tenure as Gujarat Chief Minister he had overseen the remarkable growth of Lion in Gir forests and had also written a very elaborate book on Climate Change. His commitment to environmental issues augur well for the future of forestry sector; while exhorting people to conserve Tiger and thus the natural ecosystems in the  same light he stressed the need for balancing the development with environmental conservation as both are essential for the progress and stability of the nation.

The Tiger census one of the largest survey done in the world was carried over 3, 91, 400 sq km area in 3, 17,958 sample habitat plots with 26,838 camera traps location in 141 sites covering over 1,21,337 and capturing more than 76,000 pictures of Tigers. This estimation seems quite on correct side given the meticulous planning, best technology and analytical tools. This time the human errors were minimised and were based on recording of actual field data digitally through the mobile phone application M-STrIPES (Monitoring System for Tiger-Intensive Protection and Ecological Status).  The sighting of Tigers and other animals were recorded and geo-taged. One of the key to success was the adoption of landscape approach across five landscapes of Tiger habitat viz. Shiwaliks and Indo-Gangetic Plains, Central India and Easter Ghats, Western Ghats, North-East and the Sunder bans. The National Geographic had prepared a documentary on this census which will show case the hard work done by the field staff and other officers which was premiered on 7th August 2019.

The success of Tiger growth in the country is basically due to the hard work done by the field foresters and the positive attitude of villagers apart from policy thrust and priority attached to it by the State and Central governments. The positive aspects of improvements in overall forest management were also felt together with technological back up. However, we must also remember that Tiger is a prolific breeder and once its population started growing and with a good prey base and habitat it was a natural corollary that the population will register good growth. But the nation will give equal credit to the villagers situated near the Tiger habitats as without their cooperation it would have been a pipe dream as is seen elsewhere in many countries.

The increased Tiger population has brought up more responsibility and challenges of management on the shoulders of forest departments as it must be known that Tigers can only prosper in healthy forests and in turn for a health forests we must have a good prey base and Tiger population. The forest department in the Centre and States must be geared up to face new challenges.The highest number of 526 Tigers was located in Madhya Pradesh, followed by 524 in Karnataka and 442 in Uttarakhand. But Chhattisgarh witnessed a big decline from 46 Tigers in 23014 to 19 now in 2019 and is a serious cause of concern. Similarly the results in Bihar, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Mizoram and Arunanchal Pradesh are also not very encouraging and situation may become critical in other areas also. No Tigers were reported in Buxa, Palamuand Dampa Tiger reserves once cradle of Tigers. The Sates like MP, Uttarakhand and Karnataka must brash up to control the increasing Man Animal conflicts as more Tiger population means more and more competition for the food, water and space. The condition of natural forests, prey base, livelihood of fringe forest dwellers, tribal people etc need to be taken up on priority all over the forests so that Tiger population does not come in conflict with people. Further, water sources will have to be improved on war footings to combat the challenges of climatic vagaries. The Ministry of Environment's Compensatory Afforestation Planning and Management Authority (CAMPA) recently had released to states Rs 47,000 crores and even only the annual interest earned on this if planned well can solve the monetary and resources crunch of the forest department. There is also dire need to synchronise the working of Forests, rural, tribal affairs and Jal Sakti Ministries. The time is ripe to make some innovative forward looking changes in the governance of these subjects. 







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