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What is happening with tiger conservation today?

The comeback of the tiger was miraculous after a century of its decline. In 2016, the number of tigers rose from 3,200 to 3,890 in the wild. Considering there was a scare in losing out on one of the most exotic creatures of the wild, this has definitely been a win.

Better reporting and preservation efforts led to increasing tiger populations in India, Nepal, Russia, and Bhutan. Methods of tracking tigers using new motor sensor cameras helped greatly in monitoring the species in different areas. Conservation organizations continue to classify and regulate species, which helps to adopt better measures of protection and conservation. An example of this is the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species that keeps a tab of the conservation status of every species, subspecies, and varieties, and plays a key role in guiding activities of many governments, NGOs, and scientific institutions.

Most recently, photographic evidence from the DPKY-FC (Dong-Phayayen Khao Yai Forest Complex) confirmed the world’s second-known breeding population of the Indochinese tiger here, declaring it as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a huge step in ensuring the existence of the species. It was also at the 2010 Tiger Summit in Russia where13 countries pledged on doubling the tiger population by 2020. But for this to happen, a lot more is yet to be done.

Problems still persist in 2017. India accounts for about 57% of the tiger population in the wild, which luckily has risen over the past few years. However, in countries like Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar, tigers are fast approaching extinction due to poaching and illegal trade. Tigers in these countries are classified as ‘functionally extinct.’ The idea of India sharing its tigers has been brought up, but most wildlife biologists do not recommend this. This project costing millions and investing a lot of effort unfortunately has only led to one successful case of tiger reintroduction in Panna, Madhya pradesh. World’s leading tiger expert K. Ullas Karanth also doesn’t recommend this strategy saying, “In societies that lack India’s cultural tolerance for wildlife, such failures will only undermine tiger conservation for years to come.”

Asian countries like Thailand are currently also undergoing an infrastructure development boom. The construction of new roads, railways, and buildings would lead only to a greater destruction of wild habitats. A planned construction of a major highway linking the Dawei Special Economic Zone in southeast Myanmar to southwest Thailand is one such concern, as it crosses through key protected areas of Southeast Asia: Thailand’s Western Forest Complex and the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex.’ If we want to maintain the rising number of tigers in the wild, maintaining connectivity of the tiger’s landscape is crucial.

Although tigers and humans have shared the planet for a long time, it has been a relationship of friction. Over time, with cities expanding and developing further, habitat encroachment has and continues to lead to a slow diminishment of the tiger population. In direct consequence to this, there is a lack of diversity in the gene pool leading to sick offspring. More and more tigers are held in captivity, as there is a greater chance for them to survive than in the wild. It’s about time that we rethink and reshape the relationship humans hold with tigers, as it is only up to us to continue and carry out conservation tasks to help them survive in the wild.

Areas of focus that have been adopted by countries such as India, which must be implemented in all 13 countries include firmer laws and surveillance for anti-poaching acts through technology, promotion of tiger habitats, addressing climate change and its impact, and aligning development with tiger conservation by involving locals and stakeholders. The Russian government, for example, recently introduced increased penalties for poaching in tiger reserved areas, leading to a boost in the Amur tiger numbers. It must also be known that tigers can co-exist with humans, but it is up to us to stay informed and aware. The public can appeal and fund towards tiger conservation through several campaigns and adoption programs run by international conservation organizations.

Today, July 29, on International Tiger Day, we applaud all the progress that has been achieved in retaining the tiger population. However, we must foresee what the future of civilization will bring upon it as well, and accordingly uphold efforts of conservation and awareness. Only then, can we truly hope to see this magnificent creature of the wild surviving and thriving for many more years to come.

Words by: Arushi Dutt

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