DNA (Daily News & Analysis)
Monday, March 30, 2009 20:56 IST
The deaths of five more tigers, this time in Maharashtra’s Chandrapur district, can be added to the sad statistics that make up India’s sadder record of preserving its dwindling wild life. The tiger has been the focus of a concerted effort since the 1970s and yet we appear to be worse off than we were before.
There are only about 1400 tigers left in wild in India, according to government statistics and this is an approximation — the actual figure could be somewhere between 1100 and 1600, according to experts. When Project Tiger was launched in 1972, a census report showed about 1800 tigers. Progress, certainly, has been somewhat regressive.
The usual moan when it comes to tigers is of its shrinking habitat, as development and progress eat into forests and open countryside. This is true but increasingly, is not the sole or the main reason for the fall in the tiger population. Substantial effort has gone into preserving tiger sanctuaries and national reserve forests since 1972. The deaths of the tigers in Chandrapur have been put down to the inefficiency of forest department officials. The local problem is the man-animal conflict, common in the Tadoba-Andhari area as in most borders between wildlife reserves and human habitation.
The bigger threat today is from poachers. According to the Wild Life Preservation of Society figures, India lost 832 tiger to poachers between 1994 and 2007. Various parts of the animal have some kind of value — the skin as a trophy and the bones as aphrodisiacs or some kind of virility potion. Chinese medicine makes extensive use of the tiger and that country remains the biggest market for poachers.
This is where the bigger government and NGO effort needs to focus. Africa has already suffered considerably, where the elephant and the rhinoceros were brutally massacred from their tusks and horns. Sustained efforts have seen some progress, though the human threat also remains.
The Indian tiger is bleeding similarly, because of human greed and human faith in symbolic cures. The issue of human versus animal can create a debate where both sides may find legitimate space. But the problem of poaching brooks no such argument. It has to stop and we need better security and more stringent laws to catch poachers. The tiger is falling prey to greed and blind faith. Future generations may be able to see this magnificent cat only in zoos or in wildlife films. Surely, we owe our national animal more?