Tiger, tiger, no longer bright

The death of three tigers in the last week in the jungles of Uttar Pradesh is a serious blow to tiger conservation efforts in the country. While one was found mauled to death in the Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary, two others were found dead in the Haripur forest range, with the hand of poachers suspected in at least two of these cases. Even in the first case, the death is not entirely natural as there are steps that could have been taken that would have prevented it. These are not the first instances of tiger killings in the country this year. Several tigers have died in poaching related deaths since January in jungles and protected forests all over the country while the deaths of many others remains mysterious. These tiger killings make it clear that the scale of poaching of tigers remains high in India and has not been deterred by the preventive steps taken by the government. The deaths, therefore, show flaws in the tiger protection programmes of the government. The situation is serious. There are very few tigers left in India despite Project Tiger, which was launched in 1973 to ensure a viable population of tigers in their natural habitats. Recent surveys estimate the number of tigers left in the country to be as few as 1,411. There used to be at least 40,000 at the beginning of the 20th century and it is an onslaught on them that have so reduced their numbers. The declining numbers no longer make Project Tiger a success.The species is heading towards extinction and were this to happen, the vanishing of this splendid creature would be a huge loss to the country's biodiversity.

It is only human agency that is responsible for the creatures' present plight. The lordly animals have been hunted for pleasure or poached while forest lands have been cleared for agricultural purposes leading to a reduced tiger habitat. When forest land is thus cleared, it also leads to the depletion of their chief prey like deer, wild pigs and wild cattle by local people which cause a fall in the number of tigers. Tiger body parts are used in traditional Chinese medicine, for which there is increasingly a greater demand as people in China and Southeast Asia become more prosperous. Tigers are, thus, suffering because they have to co-exist with people in human dominated contexts, with increasing pressure on their habitats. Saving the tiger is, therefore, a multifaceted problem and not easy. The government must make an all out effort to revitalise Project Tiger. It must not trot out the usual excuses such as the lack of manpower or inadequate funds. Otherwise it will be too late and the tiger will be found only in history books.
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