Presence of Tiger is essential for ecological balance

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Global Tiger Day is celebrated today all over the world to remind ourselves the need to protect, preserve and promote the tiger population by protecting its ecosystem. Tiger ecosystem consists of biotic and abiotic factors. The prey population likedeer, sambar and wild boar and the co-predators with whom the tigers have to compete like leopards and Hyenas and other animals. This wildlife together withthe vast variety of plants and microbes forms the biotic component of the ecosystem. The abiotic component consists of land, air, water and the climate. The problem faced by the tigers in the wild is that they have to compete with the humans also for the forest land as the ecosystem or the habitat is being destroyed by encroachment for cultivation, timber and other uses. Fragmentation of habitat or the ecosystem also is a major problem for the survival and growth of tigers.

India is the land of more than 70% of Asiatic Tigers. Tigers are known with genus Pantheraand there aretwo recognized subspecies of tiger the continental (Pantheratigristigris) and the Sunda (Pantheratigrissondaica). The continental tigers currently include the Bengal, Malayan, Indochinese and Amur (Siberian) tiger populations, while 1 the Caspian tiger is extinct in the wild. The South China tiger is believed to be functionally extinct. About 4,500 tigers remain in the wild, but much more work is needed to protect this species if we are to secure its future in the wild.Tiger populations are stable or increasing in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Russia and China.

Historical perspective on Tiger population:
It is estimated that there were about 400,000 tigers in the beginning of 19th century. By the time India became independent it was estimated that there were about 40,000 tigers. Historians aver that tiger population decreased drastically in the from the 15th century and maximum destruction happened in the British period. Hunting and habitat destruction were the two main causes of the loss of tiger population. The government of India took serious not the massive decline in tiger population across the country and the Wildlife Protection Act was promulgated in the year 1972. It was land mark promulgation. It was followed by launching of the prestigious “Project Tiger” in 1973. The World is celebrating the 50th year of its launching this year.

The project tiger started with nine tiger reserves covering 18,278 km2 initially to 53 tiger reserves covering 75,796 km2, which account for 2.3% of India’s land area.It is acclaimed as the most successful conservation project in the world. Its recognition by the Guinness book of world record as the most successful conservation project involving so many locations and vast area is a matter of pride for all the Indians.India is now home for more than 70% of the endangered Asiatic Tigers in the world. The latest tiger census held in 2022 recorded 3167 tigers in the country from recorded low of 1411 in 2006.

The population of tigers fluctuated up and down after 1973 and finally stabilized by the year 2010. The last four tiger censuses were conducted and estimated the tiger numberswith 1706 tigers in 2010, with 2226 tigers in 2014, with 2967 in 2018 and finally with 3167 in 2022. There was a steady increase of tiger populations across the country and the populations across the country are able to breed and expand in numbers in spite of having several hindrances.

National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)is the national authorityfor policy, planning and coordination of the of activities of tiger reserves. It stated in their census report of 2022 that most tiger reserves and protected areas in India are existing as small islands in a vast sea of ecologically unsustainable land use, and many tiger populations are confined to small protected areas. Although some habitat corridors exist that allow tiger movement between them, most of these habitats are not protected areas, continue to deteriorate further due to unsustainable human use and developmental projects, and thereby are not conducive to animal movement.

The monitoring of tigers and their census methodology in the country underwent major changes in the last four cycles resulting in estimating more accurate numbers. Use ofmodern technology including the STRIPES software and camera trapping and corroborating with physical sightings and identifying and numbering individual tigers has brought in more reliability to the census.

Andhra Pradesh has notified its only one tiger reserve viz., the Nagarjuna Sagar Srisailam tiger reserve (NSTR) in 1983. It is the largest in the country with 3727 area. The tiger numbers fluctuated till late 2000s. It has recorded a steady increase in tiger numbers in the last 12 years. The tiger numbers estimated to be 34 in 2010, 43 in 2014, 48 in 2018 and 75 in 2022. The establishment of protection base camps with local tribal chenchus youth, improving the surveillance and protection network, controlling forest fires with involvement of Ecodevelopment committees and creation of awareness programmes for local people and skill upgradation for forest staff etc., have helped in stabilizing the tiger population and showing a steady increase in numbers.

There is need to create more awareness among the stakeholders and notification of corridors an eco-sensitive zone for the tiger reserve and increasing staff, and involvement of local people in management of tiger reserves are important for ensuring long term sustainability of the tiger reserve. Tigers are reported regularly form Papikonda national Park area and the rich forest areas of Ahobilam in Nandyal district. The government of Andhra Pradesh can consider notifying these areas also as tiger reserves for conserving the tiger habitats and the tiger tigers for the future.

The author is a retired IFS officer and former PCCF & Chief Wildlife warden of Andhra Pradesh.

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