(Essay) Contest Essays for March 2008 : The Royal Bengal Tiger - Are we doing enough?

Contest Essays for March 2008 : The Royal Bengal Tiger - Are we doing enough?

The tiger is one of the most charismatic and evocative species on Earth- it is also one of the most threatened. Hounded out of home and hearth by developers, attacked by poachers and harvested for its body parts, India's national animal is reduced to a fugitive status. The magnificent cat has almost nowhere to run or hide. Only 6,000 tigers remain in the natural habitats worldwide, most in isolated pockets spread across increasingly fragmented forests, stretching from India to south-eastern china and from the Russian far east to Sumatra, Indonesia, compared to 1,00,000 just a century ago, says a UN report on endangered species. Among the different species of tigers, Bali Tiger, Caspian Tiger and Java Tiger have already become extinct. There are only 150-200 Siberian Tigers in Russia, around 300 Sumatra Tigers in Indonesia and 1000-1750 Indo-Chinese Tigers in and around Thailand. The National Tiger Conservation Authority's report released on 12th February, 2008 says that only 1,411 tigers remain in the wild of India, compared to 3,642 estimated in the 2002 report that is being disputed. The first 1960 tiger census in India estimated tiger population at 1,800. The Forest Survey of India's report, also released on 12th February, 2008, reveals a loss of forest cover of about 728 sq km in just two years, between 2003 and 2005. Forests, the report says, cover 20.6 per cent of India's geographical area of which only 1.7 per cent is what is called "very dense forest". In fact, a liberal definition of what is a forest helps dress up statistics.

The NTCA's report confirms the worst fears of experts and conservationists- that the king of the jungle is living on the edge, not far from a perilous slide to extinction. The big cat, which inspired writers and hunters-turned-conservationists like Jim Corbett since the days of the Raj, is facing his toughest battle for survival yet. Tigers are surviving under hazardous circumstances in habitats in 17 states and if these eco-systems fragment further, the depletion rate of the tiger could worsen. Tiger habitats in India include dry, deciduous jungles like those in Sariska, moist evergreen forests like in Corbett and Bandhavgarh, and tidal or mangrove forests or the Sunderbans wetlands. While Sariska has no tiger any more, Corbett in Uttarakhand and Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh are among the tiger-friendly sanctuaries listed currently. Corbett Tiger Reserve has recorded the highest tiger density compared to other habitats. In a mere 1,524 sq km, it holds 164 tigers (statistical estimates say it could be as high as 178). The dense tiger population at Corbett has become an ideal base to sustain the entire tiger pool in the Sivaliks and the Gangetic flood plains of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The Sunderbans census is incomplete. Meanwhile, forests being cut down for industry, logging and human settlements as well as wetlands exploited for water are reducing tiger and other wildlife habitat which are crucial for thriving ecosystems. In fact, the actual number of wild tigers in India could be even less than 1,411. as it's statistical study, NTCA said the tiger population could range between 1,165 and 1,657 if error margins are taken into account.

As if habitat loss was not enough, tigers have to contend with organized poaching often conducted from urban centers from where the lucrative business of trading internationally in wildlife products is conducted. The Wildlife Protection Society of India has helped track down several racketeers caught with stocks of tiger parts. India has ratified the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Globally, the illegal trade in wildlife and its products sourced mostly from Asia and mainly from India and China is worth Rs 40 crore per annum. Demand from China and parts of South East Asia for tiger organs keeps trade in dead tigers flourishing. There's growing feeling that we are waging a loosing battle- sooner or later, the India tiger will be no more. The lament must stop. What's needed is immediate focused action. The shrinking of tiger habitat is an obvious reason. We need to make a national pledge- there will be further shrinkage. Instead of spending a few crores thinly across the entire country on tiger conservation, more can be achieved by focusing money and effort on identified 'hot spots' like Corbett. The strictest enforcement of anti-poaching laws is a must, especially in the 'hot spots'. Hunt the hunters. Equip forest officers with weapons and know-how to apprehend poachers. Reward informants handsomely so that it is more lucrative than poaching tigers or trading in their skin and organs. But consumers first reject wildlife products to force the international market to shrink. In this context, it is quite heartening to note that finance minister P Chidambaram has proposed to make a one time grant of Rs 50 crore to the National Tiger Conservation Authority in Budget-2008. this fund would be used to raise an armed tribal protection force to guard tiger reserves as recommended by the PM's Task Force. Tiger Conservation efforts had earlier got a boost with the cabinet clearing a Rs 600 crore plan to help relocate people from proposed inviolate zones by providing them a Rs 10 lakh rehabilitation package besides undertaking a series of protection measures.

The Rs 50 crore provided in the Budget this time will be in addition to the earlier plan approved by the cabinet. Long live the Royal Bengal Tiger.

...Swagala Tarafdar

Courtesy : civilserviceindia.com