International Tiger Day: How Project Tiger saved the big cat in India

International Tiger Day: How Project Tiger saved the big cat in India

Context- July 29 is celebrated world over as the International Tiger Day in a bid to raise awareness on various issues surrounding tiger conservation. It was first instituted in 2010 at the Tiger Summit in St Petersburg, Russia when the 13 tiger range countries came together to create Tx2, the global goal to double the number of wild tigers by the year 2022.

(Credits- Indian Express)

Last year, the designated date for achieving the goals of Tx2, however, saw uneven progress. As per the World Wildlife Fund, while countries in Southeast Asia struggled to control population decline, others, like India, fared much better.

The successes in India can be attributed largely to the success of Project Tiger, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary earlier this year.

How Project Tiger came about

  • Project Tiger was launched by the Central government on April 1, 1973, in a bid to promote conservation of the tiger. The programme came at a time when India’s tiger population was rapidly dwindling.
  • According to reports, while there were 40,000 tigers in the country at the time of the Independence (in 1947), they were soon reduced to below 2,000 by 1970 due to widespread hunting and habitat destrcutions.
  • Concerns around the issue intensified when in 1970, the International Union for Conservation of Nature declared the tiger as an endangered species. Two years later, the Indian government conducted its own tiger census and found that there were only 1,800 of them left in the country.
  • To tackle the problem of hunting and poaching of not just tigers but also other animals and birds, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi promulgated the Wildlife Protection Act in 1972. A year later, after a task force urged the government to create a chain of reserves dedicated to tiger preservation, Indira unveiled Project Tiger.

What is Project Tiger?

  • Launched at the Jim Corbett National Park, the programme was initially started in nine tiger reserves of different States such as Assam, Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, covering over 14,000 sq km.
  • Notably, Project Tiger didn’t just focus on the conservation of the big cats. It also ensured the preservation of their natural habitat as tigers are at the top of the food chain.
  • While inaugurating the programme, Indira, in a statement, said, “The tiger cannot be preserved in isolation. It is at the apex of a large and complex biotope. Its habitat, threatened by human intrusion, commercial forestry and cattle grazing, must first be made inviolate.”

Successes and setbacks

  • Soon after, the number of tigers in India began to rise and by the 1990s, their population was estimated to be around 3,000. However, the success story of Project Tiger suffered a major setback when the local extermination of tigers in Rajasthan’s Sariska made headlines in January 2005.
  • Around a year later, the government reconstituted Project Tiger and established the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).

Fifty years of Project Tiger

  • Today, there are 54 tiger reserves across India, spanning 75,000 sq km. The current population of tigers in the country stands at 3,167 as opposed to 1,411 in 2006, 1,706 in 2010 and 2,226 in 2014.
  • The numbers saw a 6.74 per cent increase since 2018 (when they stood at 2,967), as per figures from the 5th cycle of India’s Tiger Census, released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this year to mark 50 years of Project Tiger.
  • Nearly 75 percent of the global tiger population (in the wild) can today be found in India.

Conclusion- The goal should be to have a viable and sustainable tiger population in tiger habitats based on a scientifically calculated carrying capacity to ensure that human animal conflicts do not threaten anyone.

Syllabus- GS-3; Environment and Biodiversity

Source- Indian Express