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International Tiger Day 2020: Why do we need to save Tigers?

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There are only 3,980 tigers left in the world. Of them, 2,967, accounting for 75 per cent, are found in India. This makes Tiger Conservation of utmost importance in the country. On this International Tiger Day, let us look at the state of Tiger Conservation in India.

International Tiger Day

International Tiger Day has been held on the 29th July every year since 2010 when it was first created at the Saint Petersburg Tiger Summit. This was done to raise awareness of the decline of the population of these wild cats, leaving them on the brink of extinction and to encourage the celebration around the important work of Tiger conservation.

Why do we need to protect tigers?

The Tigers play a pivotal role in the health and diversity of an ecosystem. It is a top predator which is at the top of the food chain and keeps the population of wild ungulates in check. In this manner, it maintains the balance between prey herbivores and the vegetation upon which they feed. Therefore they are known as Keystone species. These are the species without which the ecosystem of the area will collapse.
This was experienced in Yellowstone National Park when its top predators – wolves – were all gone. The wolves were the keystone species of the area. In their absence, the herbivores animals such as deers grew in number which resulted in the reduction of the plant population as they fed continuously. The deers, in fact, had no need for running to burn off the energy they consumed as they had no fear of wolves, which affected their health as well. With a reduced number of plants, animals and biodiversity surviving on them also reduced in number in the national park. Eventually, the entire ecosystem crashed. In order to revive the ecosystem, the wolves were reintroduced in the park in 1995. The ecosystem began to recover soon after that and is now thriving with diversity.
Tiger just like wolves is keystone species in India’s forests. They need to be protected to ensure that the ecosystem is in balance.

Reasons behind the declining population of Tigers

Poaching and illegal trade: For traditional Chinese medicines, tigers face the problem of poaching as there is a demand for every part of the body of the tiger. In illegal wildlife trades, they keep high prices.
Habitat loss: Nowadays and with the increasing population forest are becoming less in numbers. Clearing of forests for several reasons like agriculture, industries, etc. made a loss of around 93% of the natural habitats of tigers.
Climate Change: With the rise of sea level due to climate change lead to wiping out of Sundarbans one of the habitats of Royal Bengal Tigers.
Diseases: Several animals die and there is no way to ascertain the cause of their death. Certain diseases spread epidemics like Feline Panleucopania, tuberculosis, etc.
– The study of Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (RTR) says that the tiger population in the park showed a loss of genetic diversity over the years.
Degradation of Habitats: Big cats want a secure and disturbance-free habitat to survive but due to several developmental activities in the landscape of the protected areas (PAs) pose a big threat to tigers.
Man-animal conflict also affects the population of big cats.
Lack of protection infrastructure.
Increasing tourism day by day is also one of the factors for the decline in tiger numbers.

Project Tiger

Project Tiger is a tiger conservation programme launched in April 1973 during PM Indira Gandhi’s tenure. In 1970 India had only 1800 tigers left. In order to salvage the population of the wild cats, Project Tiger was launched in Jim Corbett National Park. The project is administered by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
The project aims at ensuring a viable population of Bengal tigers in their natural habitats, protecting them from extinction etc. Under this project the govt. has set up a Tiger Protection Force to combat poachers and funded relocation of villagers to minimize the human-animal conflicts.

India’s Success in Tiger Conservation

According to the report released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi namely ‘All India Tiger Estimation Report 2018’ India has achieved its 2022 target of tiger population in the country. The growth in the 4th cycle of the Tiger Census has been 33 per cent. The country has achieved the target of doubling the Tiger population 4 years before the deadline.

All India Tiger Estimation Report 2018

The ‘All India Tiger Estimation Report 2018’ has entered the Guinness World Record for being the world’s largest camera trap wildlife survey. The latest census is unique because it also included data collected from the rough terrains of north-eastern states which were not possible due to logistic constraints before. The entire exercise spanned over four years is considered to be the world’s largest wildlife survey effort in terms of coverage and intensity of sampling. Over 15, 000 cameras were installed at various strategic points to capture the movement of tigers. This was supported by extensive data collected by field personnel and satellite mapping.
Protection of Tiger is not only important from an ecosystem perspective. Tigers also have a historical significance in India’s culture, which is why it is also the national animal of India. India’s efforts have been applaud-worthy in conservation efforts of these wild cats. However, it needs to continue in order to preserve the population and to let it thrive to ensure a healthy and diverse ecosystem.