Tiger trials: Dangers and conservation
The dwindling number of Tigers to the point of near-extinction is a matter of grave concern. It is imperative that the protection and conservation of wildlife find adequate space in the dominant discourse on governance. Prior to and during the colonial era, “shikar” or hunting in the wild (especially the big cats) was a popular sport amongst the royal and colonial elites. “Conquering” these aggressive and ferocious animals served to add glory to their status. In fulfilling such whims of some humans, however, there was severe loss of tiger lives.
A most pressing cause pushing tigers to the brink of extinction is poaching. Though declared illegal, poaching is still one of the most prevalent crimes against wildlife. Different body parts of the tiger have been put on display as artifacts regaling with grandiosity. Moreover, there is a demand, especially in China, for the medicinal component that is contained in tiger bones. Hence, a lucrative trade in tiger parts flourishes.
Despite efforts to tackle the problem of poaching by different actors, there are several impingements to constructive results. Moreover, the policing and security situation of the reserves aren’t equipped adequately enough to be able to effectively tackle poaching. Suffice to say, merely arresting and prosecuting poachers won’t resolve the crisis. Placing it within the web of socio-economic relations links it with poverty and widely disparate distribution of incomes. Thus, a more genuine drive at alleviating poverty, creating more employment opportunities, and reduction of unjust economic disparities become imperative to curb the need to derive income from such activities. With the unbridled increase in human population, there is an inevitable need for expanding urban settlements. Urbanisation, however, occurs at the cost of the destruction of wildlife habitat. Moreover, large-scale poaching and habitat destruction have caused a fall in the population of animals that are prey to the big cat. All these factors have in turn led to humans and tigers on opposing ends instead of a natural coexistence and interdependence that exists in the animal and plant kingdom.
Tigers, now, live in less than 10 percent of their original habitat requirements. Humans and tigers are living in close proximity as the former constantly moves closer to the core areas reserved for the latter. With the lack of prey and space in the wild, the tigers are compelled to enter human settlements and eat livestock. In quite a few instances, these tigers are injured or killed by human populations for the protection of themselves and of livestock. Moreover, with the waning number of tigers and reduced area to roam, these tigers have to take to inbreeding which often has dangerous consequences on the survival and fitness of the offspring.
Project Tiger launched under, then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, in 1973, is the first ever tiger conservation programme by the Government of India. The objectives of the project are to draw the number of tigers away from extinction by ensuring a viable rise in their population in their natural habitats and the recovery and preservation of the ecosystem they need for a healthy survival.
Post the shambles of Sariska and Namdapha, there has been a resurgence of the emphasis on tiger conservation. Since 2010, there has been a 30 percent boost in tiger population in India. Yet, the programme is afflicted with difficulties such as the abuse of power and corruption by authorities involved.
The recognition of forest-dwelling communities by the government is seen as opposing to tiger conservation as there are increased chances of poaching and human-animal conflicts. However, it ought to be understood that only when these communities are involved in the cause of tiger conservation and traditional knowledge of coexistence is sought from them, can one see more effectiveness in working towards a harmonious dwelling.
“With more than seventy percent of the world population of tigers residing in India, a noteworthy aspect is the involvement and support of international organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for tiger conservation in India, especially after 2005,” points out Devanshu Sood, a Tiger Youth Ambassador for India under the umbrella of WWF. There is also a greater recognition for the need to involve the youth in conservation efforts to instil greater sensitivity towards the wildlife and the environment with the hope that this converts to substantial action in future. The youth could be involved in a number of aspects such as rehabilitation with forest dwellers, conducting field research, imparting accurate information and awareness for the cause among school children and so on.
With regard to the involvement of the state with tiger conservation projects, Sood opines that despite talks of climate change, sustainable development, and prevention of environmental degradation, the predominant approach remains to be growth oriented. This has prevented the development of a concerned and mindful attitude towards the conservation of wildlife in particular, and the environment in general.
Belonging to the interdependent ecosystem, we are a part of the symbiotic association between species for the continuance of life on the planet. However, what we forget as the ‘‘superior’’ race is that interdependence doesn’t translate to the exploitation of all other species by one to suit not only their needs but also their caprices. Moreover, a general apathy prevails towards the environment, wildlife, and animals. In the world where the respect for a human being from a different community is lacking, respecting lives of the “inferior” species is a far call.
(The writer is an undergraduate student of Political Science at Lady Shri Ram College for Women. Views expressed are strictly personal)