Taking the Tiger by the Tail!
Recently we heard some disturbing voices from responsible quarters that tigers should be eliminated if involved in man-animal conflicts. A “developing”, if not “developed”, nation also needs farsighted and positive mindsets in high places responsible for governance. Instead of suggesting a conservation-friendly solution, such as shifting such tigers away or creating space in protected areas by relocating willing villages outside in lieu of an attractive monetary package, such quick fix solutions are a sure way to incite target masses and gradually reverse the nation’s achievements in conservation. Whether political compulsion, conservation illiteracy, or a gimmick, such a regressive stand is likely to create trouble for forest departments in the country. The downside of the Indian style democracy is - the more responsible a person, the easier the escape route for gross absurdities. Nature or environmental conservation is also an important international development indicator. This is also an important aspect of nation building.
We must appreciate how difficult it is to conserve nature in a country of such an appallingly vast population and resultant problems. As per reports, tiger deaths have increased alarmingly, with death of at least one tiger almost daily in February this year. Tiger deaths in 2021 and 2022 stood at 127 and 116 respectively. While not all deaths were due to poaching, conservationists are concerned about these deaths that automatically tend to offset increase recorded in tiger number each year. Now what to say, this is so opto-pessimistic!The govt. can keep on increasing tiger number to counterbalance deaths by poaching, or enforce stringent protection to minimize unnatural deaths, and avoid spending huge expenditure and other resources on increasing tiger population vulnerable to anthropogenic onslaugt.
The forest department should appreciate a general concern that what does constitute an approximately “large enough” tiger population in the county in general and different regions in particular? There are wildlife enthusiasts with an outlandish idea of increasing tiger population to ten thousand or even beyond, if at all possible, regardless of its consequences! However, nobody can deny that India needs tiger conservation. The umbrella effect of tiger conservation is now applauded for protecting and managing vast expanses of forests, habitats, wildlife and biodiversity in India. But we also need to beware of this enigmatic “problem of plenty” dispassionately. This could be an elusive figure, but experts can find a close enough and reliable population figure for policy making. Besides, the country has already successfully displayed its resolve to the world for protecting and propagating tigers in the wild. And we are under no pressure to unnecessarily perform better and better into establishing an unsustainable/ problematic tiger number vis-à-vis a large section of human population in and around forests already facing all conceivable problems, including area specific abject poverty. The deprived should not be made to bear the brunt of our conservation achievements. Conservation is not possible without community cooperation.
State forest departments in the country need to identify such areas in each tiger state that are more prone to these conflicts. If such areas are close to potential core zones or tiger bearing forests, efforts should be made to keep tiger populations below carrying capacities by discouraging increase in prey populations through several standard measures. Most tiger reserves are now copybook managed, with a reliable tiger monitoring system. A few highly mobile/ problematic tigers can also be captured and released into low tiger density areas elsewhere. Only a few such captures in different regions/ areas can make a noticeable difference and provide relief for a long time. But the concerned tiger reserves/ forest divisions need to launch a special drive. If such core zones harbour villages, they should be relocated outside on top priority basis. This reclaimed wilderness area will accommodate a few dispersed tigers and may also minimize their movement outside the core. We should rather focus on those tiger reserves which have low densities of tigers due to past ecological onslaughts. We have a good number of such tiger reserves that need special attention in terms of protection, habitat management and prey base development for tigers.