The week when tigers were back in the spotlight
It was a good week for tigers. The release of the long-awaited preliminary report on the status of tigers in India by the Indian Government suggested a 30% increase in wild tiger numbers since the last census in 2011 bringing the total to 2,226.
Does it add up?
This latest census identifed 1,540 tigers using 9,735 camera traps in 18 Indian states with claims that this reflected 80% of the tiger population – a methodology that some suggest is not the best way to count tigers, but a huge improvement on the old fashioned pugmark methodology. The measurement includes tigers above 1.5 years of age. TigerTime’s hope is that the methodology is inaccurate and that there are many more wild tigers in India that escaped the camera traps and guesstimates!
Whatever the number the story has to be seen as a positive one reflecting India’s commitment to the protection of its national animal. But all agree there is still more, much more to be done.
India has 200,000 sq km of tiger habitat that, if managed well, could support between 5,000 – 10,000 tigers. With every tiger requiring a breeding prey population of 500 animals in its territory as a ‘food bank’ maintaining and protecting those habitats and the corridors that connect them is vital if tigers are continue to thrive.
Widening trade in wild tigers?
One alarm bell rang when press coverage claimed that Environment and Forest Minister Prakash Javadekar had said: “India is willing to donate tiger cubs to whoever wants them.”
TigerTime hopes that this largesse was the result of the ministers euphoria at the claim that India, which holds 70% of the world’s tiger population, was doing so well at protecting them. Any suggestion that India would be willing to give ‘surplus’ wild cubs to countries – including Laos and Cambodia who have already asked and who allow captive breeding and trade – would be a disaster for wild populations, perpetuating tiger trade on a whole new scale. This is definitely something that the TigerTime team will be monitoring with great interest!
Some commentators also expressed concern that many of the positive actions that India has taken – including more money for conservation and resettlement deals – were being reversed by the current Narenda Modi government. India’s challenge now is to ensure that it strikes a balance between conservation and economic gain.
It’s no mistake that tigers are known as a ‘keystone species’ – their presence is a major indicator of the health of the environment and the forests they inhabit; forests that provide water for millions of people and help mitigate climate change. Reduced to ornamental rugs and tiger bone wine their power to maintain a healthy ecosystem for all of us is lost.
Please help us maintain these vital tiger populations. Help us ban the trade in tiger parts and ensure that awareness for the wild tiger is kept at the forefront of people’s minds and does not hinge around a census carried out once every three years.