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International Tiger Day: The Critical Role of Community Participation and Afforestation in Tiger Conservation

Since the St. Petersburg Summit held in Russia in 2010, ‘International Tiger Day’ is being observed on 29 July every year, to inspire collaborative and collective efforts to support a healthy population of this big cat across all tiger-range countries. With India hosting 70% of the world’s tiger population – the world’s largest – it is incumbenton all Indians to ensure that this magnificent species survives and flourishes within its frontiers. While the Indian Government’s efforts under ‘Project Tiger’, launched in April 1973, have succeeded in pulling back the Tiger from the brink of extinction, an all-out approach that includes common people, NGOs and private business enterprises can add considerably to the endeavor.

‘Project Tiger’: A Roaring Success

India recently commemorated 50 years of ‘Project Tiger’, which has turned out to be one of the world’s most successful wildlife conservation projects. Making a humble beginning with just nine Tiger Reserves (protected forest areas specifically aimed at tiger conservation), the project expanded rapidly to soon cover the entire country. ‘Project Tiger’covers 53 Tiger Reserves today, spread over 75,000 sq.km. In the latest Tiger census released by the Government, their total number in the country was estimated to be 3167,more than double the number (1411) reported in the 2006 census .
However, ‘Project Tiger’ has miles to go still, considering the irreparable wildlife loss that the country has witnessed of late. As per Government estimates, India is believed to have been home to over 40,000 tigers in the early 19th Century . Neglect by the Colonial Government, poaching, tiger-hunting and degradation of forests have since depleted their numbers severely. So, even as we celebrate the success of ‘Project Tiger’, we mustn’t ever lose sight of our collective responsibility to work relentlessly for this magnificent animal.

Challenges on the Horizon

With the steady rise of tiger populations in most of the Tiger Reserves and National Parks, their capacity to sustain their further growth in numbers is getting challenged. Increasing human-animal conflict in the vicinity of these protected areas in the form of life threat, damage to crops and livestock has turned out to be a big challenge.
A healthy prey base is also extremely critical to sustain a genetically vibrant tiger population that requires a viable population of other species of the forest. Increasing pressure on forests – driven by our developmental needs, infrastructure expansion, exploration of resources and deforestation – is rapidly leading to an alarming decline in the population of other species, thereby impacting the tiger population as well. As the Tiger sits at pole position in our ecosystem, its conservation must not be narrowly misinterpreted as increasing just its numbers alone. An integrated approach that encapsulates forests, human communities around them, as well as other animal species that are the big cat’s prey, is extremely critical for sustaining a healthy tiger population in India.

The Need of the Hour: Afforestation, Community Participation and Awareness

The success of wildlife conservation is intertwined with the overall wellbeing of people residing in the vicinity and buffer zone areas around protected forests. Afforestation and greening the buffer zones around core tiger areas assumes critical importance. A well-buffered vicinity area with lush-green trees, grasses and bushes ensures a healthy prey population, thereby preventing tigers from moving out of the forests and straying into nearby villages and residential areas in search of food.
A large number of people working in Wildlife Tourism owe their livelihoods to a vibrant tiger population in the protected forests. However, there is a huge awareness deficit, resulting in people resorting to violence against invading animals and harming protected species. It is critical to create more employment opportunities for tribal communities, incentivize them monetarily, and make them important stakeholders in decision making. All these will go a long way in aiding governmental efforts at Tiger conservation.



Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.



Capt K Raghuraman (Retd) is the Managing Trustee of Gland-Fosun Foundation, the CSR arm of Gland Pharma Limited. An alumnus of National Defence Academy and Indian Military Academy, he served in the Indian Army as an Infantry officer on the country’s sensitive borders. After retiring from the Army, he has continued to work in the civilian sector. Prior to joining Gland Pharma, he had worked extensively with organizations dedicated to social and community development, facilitating their promotion and advocacy aspects.