Tigers are in trouble. The growing demand for tiger parts on the black market in Asian countries, habitat fragmentation and animal-human conflict resulting in persecution have pushed tiger populations to the brink. India is regarded as being one of the last wild tiger strongholds as it is home to around 70% of the world tiger populations, yet as of 2011 there were thought to be less than 2,000 tigers left in India. At the time of independence from Britain in 1947, there were thought to be 40,000 tigers living in India.
With a decrease in population that severe combined with the pressures created by India’s bid to become a world economic power it might appear that tigers have already been confined to a future of zoos and captivity, however there may finally be some good news as India releases the results from their tiger census. India’s tiger population leapt by 30 per cent from 1,706 in 2011 to 2,226 in 2014. The survey used nearly 10,000 camera traps, which allowed for identification of individual tigers through their unique stripes.
India’s conservation framework is under scrutiny as the new government have been systematically dismantling the legislation put in place to safeguard the environment in order to sustain quicker development, hence these numbers are being heralded as a potential saviour against tiger habitat destruction.
India has a colourful history with tiger conservation, in 1971 tiger numbers had plummeted sparking feverish conservation efforts (namely Project Tiger) which led to tiger populations reaching 4,000 individuals by 1984. However the success was short-lived as the 1990’s saw tigers disappearing amidst feverish hunting and a change in government saw development cost the country a quarter of it’s lands. In 2008 a mere 1,411 tigers were left despite the multi-million investment in Project Tiger over a period of more than 30 years.
The census shows tiger populations have once again started to improve, however the parallels with the destruction of the 1990’s is striking. Once again there is a lucrative black market for tiger skulls and skins which has caused an increase in poaching. However of greater concern is the governments push for development as powerful industries fuel the fire by investing in the myth that environmental laws are suffocating the country’s growth. Development not only threatens existing tiger reserves but also corridors put in place to link the reserves which are vital in dispersing tigers and preventing the gene pool from becoming diluted.
History has shown us the impact of unregulated growth with the only benefit being that of corporate greed, and little to no regard for the environment. It is hoped that the conservation prestige which the census results will shower upon India will help to subdue developments which threaten the tiger, however in a country with the ambitions of India it appears only a matter of time before the prestige of the tiger is forgotten in a bid to become a major player in world affairs.
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